Sunday, November 22, 2009

What it's like being married to me

OK, this is a blog that’s long overdue. Overdue, but appropriate on this day, a few days in front of a day of thanks, a day set apart to say “thank you” to God for his provision in our lives.

How many times has my wife had to endure hearing questions from those of you not privy to an inside look at my life? Too many.

The questions come in some variation of this theme: “Oh, Dr. Kraus, how do you do it all?” Surgeon, novelist, missionary, father, husband. I usually mumble something about grace. The answer is true, but perhaps not specific enough.

The grace I’m referring to (undeserved divine favor) comes to me predominately through one source: my wife, Kris. While I ignore life’s daily details, functioning as the visionary of our wedded duo, Kris plods on, suffering the blunt end of my decisions, the one who has to be sure everything continues to work.

And she’s done it for twenty-six years. Mostly behind the scenes. Without credit. While my few fans step up with smiles and ask, “How do you do it all?”

It’s not easy being married to me.

Not easy is the polite way to say it.

She knew I was on my way into medicine when we met and married. That part wasn’t an unpleasant surprise. But for anyone, expectations are a given.

What would you expect from a life with a physician as a spouse? Security? A comfortable income? The right schools, the right church, a nice house in the country or the suburbs? None of that would be out of the ordinary for a modern physician.

But I’ll admit, I’m not one for following the status quo. Not as a physician. Not as a Christian (and admittedly, I think that status quo Christianity paves the road to hell).

So imagine the vague anxiety my wife must have felt when I announced my first life-altering decision in our young marriage: I want to be a surgeon.

That meant at least five years of residency hell. Back in those days, no one limited your hours. And the military style obedience and dedication weren’t so family friendly. We were one of the couples who survived the torture, looking forward to a better life beyond.

And we had it, for a while. Until just after we’d built my wife’s dream house, the doctor-country house. And then I announced another visionary stressor: I think we should take the family to Africa for a year.

My wife buckled under, sold the dream house, and made it happen. Moving a family of three boys to Africa isn’t easy. There is adjustment. Different friends, a different school.

But one year wasn’t enough. After a year, we moved again, this time back to America to a smaller house in town. Not a “doctor-house.” My wife adjusted down her expectations. Again.

Then we returned to Africa for three years. A chance to make a real difference. And my wife adjusted and made it happen. Three and out, she hoped. But now, after two years back in our modest house in America, we’re talking about a return to Africa. Another three years.

My wife is holding on, hoping it will be the last time that need grips my heart and passion fuels a vision for great things. I look ahead to impacting an unreached people group. Kris looks at three more years of bad roads, inconvenience, personal risk, and a living situation far from American-doctor luxury.

No she’s not selfish. She’s normal. She likes America. Who doesn’t?

And yes, she will go along with the dreams God has birthed in my heart. But she will ask him, “how long?” and “why us?”

Consider the orientation of the wonderful woman I married on a Nebraska hog farm in 1983. She grew up in a little close-knit community wanting little more than to live in the same house for twenty years. OK, maybe forty. She yearns for stability and sameness. Instead, she got me.

She wanted to make a home place, a retreat for kids and eventually grandkids. Instead, we’ve moved a dozen times in twenty-six years, including back and forth to Africa twice.

I’ve had crazy ideas. I think I’ll write a novel. Or a dozen. Whatever made me think I could spend the hours necessary to do that?

Because Kris takes care of everything that I ignore. Including herself.

I write. She cooks, cleans, shuttles kids to school, and finds time to study herself, in pursuit of a nursing degree.

I see patients, do surgery. She makes sure someone pays the bills, gets the cars inspected, makes appointments with our accountant and keeps the financial records.

I accept yet another opportunity to speak or travel on a short-term medical mission. She makes all the travel arrangements and watches over everything at home while I’m gone. I don’t worry about a thing.

I get the credit for giving an inspiring talk about grace. Kris does all the behind the scene stuff, gets no credit and looks at my busy life wondering where’s the grace he’s talking about?

Well for me, I know it’s a struggle to practice everything I preach. Speaking, writing and doing surgery crowds out personal devotion and private worship. My audience doesn’t see the inconsistency. My wife does. And she calls my number on it.

Good for her. I don’t like it, but I need it.

And that’s why I’m telling you about her during thanksgiving week. She is God’s biggest blessing to me. He knew I needed a woman to manage everything I don’t. I think she often wonders why God would put two so different individuals together in a union of marriage. Well, if we were both like me, we’d have exploded long ago.

I need her. Badly. She’s unappreciated, often ignored. And far too often, I haven’t given her the credit she deserves.

I want everyone to know. She’s amazing. She’s underrated on the radar screen of publicity. I get the credit for work I do standing on her shoulders.

I’ve talked before about how people put others up on pedestals. Missionary. Published novelist. Surgeon. People hear the titles and prop me up with their own ideas of importance. But I tell them that it’s all grace. The only pedestal I want to stand on is a pedestal of grace.

Most of the time, for me, that pedestal of grace is spelled “K-r-i-s.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

April Release: The Six-Liter Club

I was sitting in a Sunday morning service listening to my pastor, Phil Smuland tell a story. Ever notice how everyone perks up when preachers do that? (OK, digressing early...) Anyway, he told a fascinating story about a missionary family living in the Congo during the Simba rebellion in 1964 (Simbas were revolting against the new government that had obtained freedom from Belgium not so long before). For several months, many Christian missionaries had been gathered under guard in Stanleyville. As the UN forces arrived to free them, nearby Simbas conducted a house-to-house slaughter of westerners who had remained in their homes. As the story goes, a Christian missionary man went out his front door and looked to the north up the street and saw the Simbas going door to door killing everyone. He looked to the south and witnessed the same horror. Knowing they would be at his home in minutes, he knew he had little time to act. Quickly, he took several live chickens and slaughtered them, spraying the blood around the entrance to the house and kitchen. He then took his family and hid under the house. When the Simbas arrived, they saw evidence that the slaughter had already touched that home and passed over to the next house.


Wow. What a powerful picture of the passover.

And of course, that started me thinking of a story of my own....What if I wrote a story from the viewpoint of a survivor of the Simba Rebellion, perhaps the child of martyred missionaries? What if the child wasn't told about the horror from the Congo, but has partial memories of hidden evil?

Now, over six years after hearing that story, the novel whose seed found its beginning in that sermon illustration is going to hit the shelves.

The Six-Liter Club tells the story of Camille Weller, the first black female trauma surgeon at the Medical College of Virginia. The time is 1984 and academic surgery was still dominated by white men.

OK, I can imagine you are thinking, Kraus has proven he can write from the standpoint of white male surgeons, but can he write through the eyes of a female? A black female?

First, let me remind you that fiction writers are continually getting into the heads of characters that are nothing like themselves. Fiction writers don't have to be murderers or child abductors to write convincingly from that viewpoint.

My agent asked bestselling African American female author Vanessa Miller to read the manuscript. Here's what she said: "I absolutely loved this book. And I believe other women will enjoy reading about Camille's journey also. Great job!"

She gave me this "blurb" to use for promotion:


A Story of heartbreak, love and tenacity that will have your rooting for the main character until the very last page. Unforgettable!
Vanessa Miller, Bestselling author of Forgiven and Yesterday's Promise

Coming from Vanessa, I couldn't be happier.

What is the meaning of the title? The Six-Liter Club is the club surgeons don't want to be in! You get in the club by having a patient shed six or more liters of blood during their surgery and still survive (the body has only five liters of blood, so someone has to be working pretty fast to replace all that blood!). My protagonist joins the club on the first day of her new job as trauma attending at Medical College of Virginia.

Does that guarantee that Camille Weller will be respected for her work? Far from it! She has to fight to be respected for something other than her physical attributes.

Over the years, Camille has compromised to be a part of the boys club. Now, as a young surgery attending, she discovers that as a woman she brings something special to her occupation. Maybe her gender isn't the hindrance that she always thought....

Mix in a love story and a boyfriend with a cheating heart...

Add the mystery of a hidden past that threatens to unravel Camille's cool facade with memories of horror...

Sprinkle in the controversy that raged in 1984, that is, can Camille offer breast cancer patients an operation other than removal of the breast (lumpectomy which is now known to be appropriate, but in 1984 was just being proven) and survive the criticism of her male peers that live and die by surgical dogma (breast cancer means mastectomy. Period!)

Here's the first paragraph, just a tease....

My heart beat with the exhilaration of knowing I hid in enemy territory, a woman in a men’s bathroom. Moments ago, I blew in here to make a poignant statement about this sexist university, but right now, I feel a bit short-winded, like I need to recover an ounce of the passion that has fueled my daily survival in this hospital for the greater part of the last decade. There are trite metaphors to describe what I just did. Threw down the gauntlet. Drew a line in the sand. Aunt Jeanine would have called it career suicide, but I never did give much for her opinion of my actions. Thirty seconds ago, I thought my statement was precisely what this stodgy establishment needed. But at this moment on the day I became the first woman surgeon to join the prestigious six-liter club, I cowered in a stall of the men’s bathroom, desperate to find the fire that emboldened me to barge into this inner sanctum of testosterone. I peered through a crack at the doctor’s locker room, appreciating only a small vertical slice of the room at a time. It was much like the nurses, except larger and smelling a bit like my sweat-socks after a run in the Virginia heat. I leaned forward until my forehead touched the cool surface of the metal door, tuning my ear to the voice of Dr. Bransford, my mentor and the chief of general surgery.

It is still a few months away, but I promised I'd give you a sneak look. Release date is April 6.

Or should I say "due date"? Sometimes this book-writing stuff does seem like labor!

With special appreciation for my former pastor and current friend, Phil Smuland. Thanks for the idea!

Harry


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Get to versus Have to

Last week, I was in a "creative access" country. That's mission-speak for a Muslim country with laws against evangelism or conversion.


Our involvement there began a few years ago when I visited with a director of a secular NGO and asked the dean of a small struggling medical school if he could use the help of a team of medical doctors who could give lectures, do operative cases and make rounds with the medical students. His enthusiasm was apparent. OK, I thought, that's an open door. Now for the weighty question. "I am coming from a Christian church hospital in Kenya. The type of doctors I would find would likely be Christians."

His response. "That's fine." The understanding is that we are there for medical work, not for making Christian converts. In fact, he assured me that he assumed we would be Christian. After all, most of the physicians I work with are from America. They assume that because America is a "Christian country" that anyone from there will be Christian. That's the way it works for them. They are born in a country where there is no separation of Islam from their government. By their constitution, it is illegal for a Muslim to convert to another religion. If you are born there, you are Muslim. Automatically. You have no choice.

That began what has become a wonderful relationship between a Muslim medical school and a Christian hospital. We work for a week at a time doing dozens and dozens of surgeries, giving lectures and seeing patients with the students. Over the years, we have returned to see the young medical students graduate and become interns. And our relationships with the faculty blossom.

And as we work, we are open about our lives, our families, and our faith. No, we are not seeking conversions. But we are doing what Jesus commanded. Loving. Serving. Being light in a dark place.

I love my time in this country. I truly love the people there. they are sincere, and hardworking. Their willingness to stay there in a hard situation and serve their own countrymen is admirable.

I'm impressed in particular by one of their doctors who has started a program to help women who have developed vesico-vaginal fistulas. (what is that? A condition caused by prolonged arrested labor when a baby's head is too big for delivery. In the US, that means an urgent C-section; out in the bush of this country, the woman may labor for more than a day resulting in a pinching of tissues between the mother's pelvic bones and the baby's head. This means that eventually the pinched tissue dies from the pressure, like a pressure sore on the back of an old person who can't roll around, resulting in a connection between the urinary bladder and the birth canal. This has an unfortunate result: the woman drains urine through her vagina constantly, without restraint. This means bad odor, ostracism, divorce, and financial ruin. There are thousands of these women, a huge social problem.) This particular doctor has performed nearly 400 of the corrective operations in the past year, all for free. I asked this doctor about his motivation. "Why are you doing this?" I asked.

It didn't take long for him to reply. He is seeking Allah's favor. Then, he looked at me and added, "It is the same way for you. You travel all the way over here to donate your services to our people."

With gentleness, I pointed out the error in his thinking. "You are doing this to earn Allah's favor. I am doing this out of gratitude, because I HAVE God's favor."

Maybe outwardly, it looks the same, but the motivation is miles apart (as well as the final outcome!) This conversation mirrored another one I had with a Muslim intern. We compared our faiths. Good deeds for the Muslim are "have to"; for Christians, it's "get to." The Islam religion can be summed up by the phrase "serve him." For the Christian, it is "love him." It's the radical difference between wages and grace.

The best the Muslim can hope for is that the good deeds of a lifetime outweigh the bad and that you arrive at the gates of paradise to find Allah in a good mood. If he's not, there goes a lifetime of good deeds out the window.

For the Christian, we boast only in the cross of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone and faith alone. Good works are only the evidence of heart-faith.

There are many reasons why I love making trips like this, not the least is that I'm surrounded with continuous reminders (by contrast) of God's grace!

I'm back home safely after nearly three days of travel. Next week, I promise I'll give you a sneak look at my upcoming novel, "The Six-Liter Club."

Also, if you're interested, I've joined another blog where I will contribute on occasion: visit http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com

Grace,
Harry

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What it takes to be a master writer

Fellow writer Mary DeMuth has posted an interesting article @ http://michaelhyatt.com/2009/10/what-it-takes-to-become-a-master-writer.html


In her blog "What it Takes To Be A master Writer" Mary answers a question fielded by most published authors.

And Mary tells the grinding truth about improving the craft, the answer listeners steeped in an instant-gratification world don't want to hear: 10,000 hours of practice.

Wow. Break that down. That's a full time job (assuming 40 hr week and two weeks off a year) for FIVE YEARS. And that's before publication, so let's make it ten years of twenty hour weeks because you need another job to support your writing habit.

Most good writing doesn't happen without a long period of craft-work. But that runs counter-culture to our instant-potato, microwave-everything culture. We want washboard abs in two weeks, a complete work-out in four minutes a day and our success overnight.

But greatness for a writer rarely comes without a willingness to spend long weeks alone and learning to be OK without publication.

As God's children, we understand His sovereignty over all. Sure, he could make me or any other writer and overnight success, but he'll likely use the hours of solitude in perfecting the craft as a means of grace to accomplish his plan. And He rarely measures success the way man does. In Isaiah 28:10 we read, "for it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little."

I've often read that verse and thought, boy, Isaiah sure hasn't met my editors! They would have never let me get away with repetitive words like that. The red marks would have been all over that text. But God isn't in a hurry and the prose gets repetitive for a reason. God is interested in quality. And not necessarily quality.

Take a look at Mary DeMuth's blog. Don't despair. In God's universe, great writing is almost always accomplished "line upon line, line upon line."

As always, I'm hoping that you will understand your need for grace every moment, Harry.

Friday, October 9, 2009

"I thought you were a woman!"

OK, I'll admit to a little vanity. I often look at what people are reading in public places, like in airports when they are waiting around for a flight. I dream of someday seeing someone actually reading a Harry Kraus novel so I could sneak up and ask them what they are reading.


Well, it actually happened to me....once. But the person's response wasn't what I was expecting.

A few years ago, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona at a surgery meeting, eating alone in a restaurant. A couple came in and sat at the next table. The man was quickly absorbed in some sporting event on the large-screen TV while the woman picked up a book to read. I casually looked over. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was one of mine, "Could I Have This Dance?"

So now what to do? I HAD to talk to her. I waited until they stood to leave and then I stood up as well and said something lame. "Excuse me. I happened to notice you were reading. Where did you get that book?"

The woman looked at me like I was some creep daring to hit on her in front of her husband. And that had to be the worst come-on line in history. She answered, "The library back home."

By this time, I was committed. I launched ahead. "Well, believe it or not, I wrote that book."

She did a quick double take of the cover and looked back at me. "I thought you were a woman." (what she meant was I thought the author of this book was a woman).

Granted, my name carries little recognition with readers. She was reading a book with an attractive young woman on the cover and the story is written from the view point of a woman in medicine....so, of course, she assumed the writer was a woman!

In a way, she'd paid me a huge complement. As a man, I'd pulled it off, writing in a believable way from a woman's point of view.

She quickly looked down at the book again. "It does say,'Harry.'"

"Yes," I said, pointing at my chest. "That's me."

At this point, I did something even lamer, pulling out my driver's license to convince her. "See?"
She was polite and believed me. In fact, a few minutes later, she came back into the restaurant and wanted a picture with me as she held up the book. I think she wanted proof for the librarian back in Wisconsin.

Anyway, that was my ego-moment, wrapped up in a bow of misconception: "I thought you were a woman!"

Have a great day. The weather is turning a bit cooler in my part of Virginia. The leaves will be changing soon. I love it.

Harry

Friday, September 25, 2009

If you want your evangelism program to fail, read this.


If you want your evangelism program to fail, read this.

Programs with a focus on converting the lost, however well-intended, are going to fail.
In our post-modern culture (and all around the globe where pre-modernism and modernism is still in vogue for that matter), recipients of evangelistic efforts are savvy enough to know when they are being targeted for conversion. And the natural impulse will be to run! Far away! 
No one wants to be a project, a notch on the back of someone's King James Bible.
If you want your evangelism to succeed, stop counting nickels and noses.  Stop keeping records.
You mean my goal shouldn't be to convert the lost?  
RIGHT!  
EXACTLY!
I can hear the criticism:  but Jesus commanded us in the Great Commission to make disciples.  Go into all the world!
I get that.  Believe me, I do. I've been there, working on a foreign soil. For years.
And I'm all for the Great Commission. 
What I'm saying is that our goal shouldn't be to convert the lost.  Our goal should be to LOVE the lost.  And if we do......guess what? Conversion will follow.
When Jesus talked about love, he instructed us in the strongest language:  "A new COMMANDMENT I give to you."  (Capitalization is mine.)
This is the missing ingredient in failed evangelism programs. If our goal is simply to love (work benevolently on behalf of someone else for their benefit, not yours) the lost, they will be closer to conversion than if they heard a set of four spiritual laws or the Roman road. 
I've come back to 1Corinthians 13 over and over and over.  You can do everything, even give all your money away to the poor, work tirelessly walking door to door, preaching a message, but if you do not love, your words and actions will not sound a clear message. It will be as effective as a cracked cymbal.  
I know from personal experience that especially in cross-cultural, cross religion (Muslim) evangelism efforts, love in deed will carry your message much farther than a factual word alone.
I'm not against evangelism programs. I'm only saying that they must be grounded in a heart of love for the lost or all program efforts will be ineffective.
OK, I've vented now. I'll get off my soapbox and go back to writing.
        And I hope, loving my readers well with a good story. 'Cause if I'm not loving them with a good story and only "messaging" them with the Gospel, my communication will be ineffective, see?
Grace,
Harry Lee
PS:  The picture is a friend of mine, Mark Newton, MD, showing love in ACTION. I've been with Mark on numerous trips into a country closed to open evangelism.  But guess what? No country is closed to love!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Never Forget!


     On the morning of September 10, 2001 my wife and oldest son discussed the plans for the day. Should they visit the twin towers on the 10th or the 11th? After some debate, they decided to visit on the 10th, never knowing that they would be some of the last tourists to ever set foot on the top of the towers.

     That evening, as we sat watching the pouring rain in Yankee stadium, we ate overpriced hot dogs and waited for the game to begin. Eventually, Joe Torre came out onto the field shaking his head and the game was cancelled. I'll forever remember my words of comfort to my disappointed son, who had wanted to see a major league baseball game. "Don't worry, Joel. Tomorrow we have tickets to a Broadway show. That won't be cancelled for rain. Nothing cancels Broadway."
     Little did I know.
     Of course, Broadway was cancelled on 9/11 because of the unthinkable. America was attacked. And many of us felt vulnerable for the first time.
     For most of us, it was our first up close and personal encounter with radical Islam.
     I've often thought it a bit ironic that I would end up reaching out to the people who hold fast to their Muslim faith. In Kijabe, Kenya, many of my patients were Muslim and I learned a lot in my dealings with my Muslim patients:
     Most Muslims want Islam to be judged by things other than violence. Most Muslims want to exist peacefully with their neighbors. (Most Christians do not want to be judged by dark chapters in our history such as the crusades either!)
     Most Muslims cannot be converted with an intellectual argument, pointing out inconsistencies between the Bible and the Koran, even when other historical books have proven the authenticity of Christianity's sacred writings.
     Most Muslims from Africa that I've met believe they understand Christianity, but in reality, they know little about the gospel message. All they have been told is that our book is corrupt, that we worship multiple Gods and Western culture is confused with our faith.  Just as they don't want me to judge their religion by 9/11, I have to ask that they not judge Christianity by popular US culture!
     Love is the best way to begin to relate to a Muslim. If they sense that you have an agenda beyond this (i.e. conversion), evangelism falls flat. Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13? All evangelistic efforts fail if they are void of love!
     Nonetheless, there are radical groups with a violent jihad philosophy, with a goal of Muslim domination by force. For these, we can only pray, and hope that if our lives intersect with theirs, they will realize that they are loved (by us and by our Savior).
Anyway, I'm beginning to ramble. I really only wanted to remind my readers to make love your highest aim. Let's let 9/11 be an anniversary that prompts us to remember that there are many, many Muslims who are dying in need of a Savior. Our job is not to correct their doctrine, or preach. Our job is to love. Someone smart once said, "people will not care what you know until they know that you care."
     I'm including a photograph. It's my son and my wife, a souvenir photo taken on the top of the twin towers on 9/10/2001. 
     I know I'll never forget!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Workin'!

Is there anything more "Christian" than work? I'm not talking about the hum-drum 9 to 5 stuff, but old-fashioned work that we consider working for God. Teaching, preaching, volunteer work, disaster relief work, vacation Bible school, after school programs, nursery duty....the list could go on infinitum. And sometimes, especially for the foreign missionary, it seems it does!

I've been thinking about work lately. There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy in the scripture with God encouraging us (on one hand) to work and on the other, to rest.
According to Ephesians 2:10, good works were the very reason we were created. There is nothing like the feeling of finding the work you seem to be made to do. I have that sense from time to time. I'm in the grove, my personality and skill-set a puzzle-piece match with some need. In the book of James, we see works held up as the very proof of our salvation.
But salvation is clearly by grace alone. Right?
Sure. Look back at the passage in Ephesians, just prior to the statement that we are created to do good works. It says, "by grace are you saved...."
Matthew 11:28-30 is one of my favorites: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
How do we understand these verses together? Work! Rest!
It's not just a matter of timing. Sure, there is an aspect (see Ecclesiastes 3) that there is a time to rest and a time to work. But I think it has more to do with attitude.
According to 1Corinthians 3:9, we are "God's fellow workers." We are not in this labor alone. In fact, from John 15, we see that we can do nothing without him. 
Grace (God's divine favor towards his children whereby he freely loves, forgives, and exalts undeserving sinners into sonship) and work are inseparable. This is an apparent paradox. I love the way Paul explains his work:
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
So the key to all this work is grace. Realize this is an amazing deal. God merely wants us to be a channel of his love to the world, a channel of his grace. We work when we allow him to work through us. He sets up the opportunity, gives us the right words, works by his Spirit through us, and then rewards us for the work in the end. That's grace!
I believe there is a place at the intersection of our passions and our gifts where we find fruitful work in God's kingdom. When it all comes together, it is not because of man's striving. It is because God is at work. That's the essence of Grace! Remember how Louie Giglio described it: Grace is God at work. It's not grace when it's me at work.
Motivation is also key. We don't work in order to gain salvation. We work because salvation was given to us by grace.
Just my thoughts,
Harry Lee

Saturday, August 8, 2009

God loves you-part 2

     God loves us. This is an explosive, life-altering message. But how human to not believe it, or to allow our thoughts to cascade into a thousand other self-demeaning directions. How dare we call unlovely what he has loved with the price of the cross! Yes, God loves us--unconditionally, totally, genuinely. But his love is not a wispy or wimpy "because I love you I will never hassle you about your behavior or call you to account for the ways you disobeyed me." His love demands that we admit our sinfulness, and yet also makes a way of forgiveness--the death of Jesus in our place. Sadly, we pay too little attention to this great love.

     Romans 8: 35-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God's love.  What incredible news! Nothing can separate me from his love. Not even my particular temperament or my feelings. Nothing. Period.
     This news should be the source of a never-ending refreshing, a spring so cool that it never ceases to satisfy. This news should prompt an overflow of love into the world around us and form the basis for the message we share to initiate the formation of new disciples--in effect, a fulfillment of the Great Commission.
     Not sharing this love is antithetical to its very nature. Our mission as Christians is made easy when we are dwelling in the reality of Romans 8.
     I love the way Eugene Peterson says it in his popular paraphrase:
     "Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settle on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love....(What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celbration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son." Ephesians 1:4-7, Message
     I adapted this blog from my book, "The Cure."
     Have a great day. Relish in this:  GOD LOVES YOU!!!
Harry

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

God loves you.

     I've been rereading something I wrote a few years ago and wanted to share it with you.  It comes from my book, "The Cure."  Concerning the truth that God loves me....


     The effect of the simple yet profound truth that God loves me is huge.  Within the confidence of his love, there is no need for worry.  I no longer need to impress anyone.  There is no need for despair over my circumstances.  If I am sure that God loves me, I am confident he will work and keep working on my behalf.  

     I can pray with assurance, preach with confidence, smile with sincerity, obey without concern for my own welfare, follow faithfully in the presence of trial or darkness, and share generously.  When I know God's love, I can be strong against temptation, stand unmoving in the midst of persecution, and remain unafraid in the presence of danger.  When I understand love, I'm free from the bondage of the past, the anxiety of the present, and fear of the future.

     If you understand God's love for you, really understand it, you will change the world!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A challenge by Francis Chan

Monday, June 15, 2009

I would like three pounds of God.

I ran across this poem:


I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
Not enough or explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
But just enough to equal a cup of warm milk, or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man, or pick beets with a migrant worker.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy three pounds of God, please.
–Wilbur Reese


Wow.  Sure, it's tongue in cheek, but honest.  Almost too honest.

I want enough of God to wash away my sin, but not enough to challenge me into personal sacrifice and suffering. I want the Lord of the Universe to come into my life, but then sit quietly at the table and not speak unless I ask.

We want to give him an hour on Sunday.  But do we want to give him all week?

If the Gospel wasn't all about grace, this would be easy.  You see, if I got what I deserved, I could bargain with God.  "I worked this much and fulfilled my part of the bargain, so you can ask this much of me."  Instead, we face the trauma of grace:  Since he gives freely and without merit, he can ask everything.

Harry

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The unforced rhythms of grace!

What was it about Jesus that men were willing to follow him to their deaths?

 

Was he harsh?  Sometimes, yes, particularly to religious hypocrites.

 

Was he honest?  Brutally so.  “You’ve had five husbands…”

 

Did he expect sacrifice?  Risk?  “If anyone would follow me let him take up his cross…”

 

But it was not these apparent hard things that defined him.  We know from John chapter one that Jesus was full of grace and truth.  Listen to these words from The Message , Matthew 11:

 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

I love the phrase, “the unforced rhythms of grace.”

 

Grace is undeserved favor.  I don’t merit it, didn’t earn it, don’t need a qualification for it beyond my own need (believe me, according to this standard, I’m qualified, summa cum laude!).  The ability to accept someone unconditionally (grace) is what gives them the power to change. 

 

Grace isn’t a one time, got-grace-at-the-altar experience.  It is the ongoing characteristic of God that determines his every interaction with his children.  It is present behind every good time.  And every hard trial. 

 

Just because the road has gotten hard doesn’t mean his grace has lapsed.  No, it may be disguised in a cloak of suffering.  We may not see it for what it is on this side of eternity, but I believe God’s character of grace is unchanging.  His actions to us whether roses or trials, reflect his goodness and love towards sinners (us!).

 

Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11 is open.  Come and rest.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

 

I’m in.

 

Have a great weekend.

 

Harry Lee

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What happens when we see God?

I heard Del Tackett (www.deltackett.com) expound Isaiah 6:1-8 and he makes three points in response to my question. I want to expound on them here.


First, let's recap the first few verses from Isaiah 6: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he coered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the lOrd of host; the whole earth is full of his glory!' And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: 'Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!' The one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.' And he said, 'Go'..."

Look at Isaiah's response to seeing the Lord: I am lost! I am a man of unclean lips. This is the first thing that happens when we see God: We are exposed!

When we encounter the perfect, loving Savior, we quickly see how inadequate we are. But don't despair. Our weakness is our qualification for service! Remember, God is not looking for the strong, but for those who know their strength lies only in him. When we see Jesus for who he really is, our anxieties fall away. Our guilt and shame are erased. There is no place for fear!

The second thing that happens is related to the first and is seen in Isaiah's next response: "I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." Number two: Our culture is exposed.
The third thing that happens is that God uses us to engage our culture. (Whom shall I send? Here am I, send me!). When we see God, He makes us world changers.

I believe our calling is to show Christ to the world as the true treasure that he is.  When they see Jesus in reality, expect a reaction.

The challenge to me is to live every day so that onlookers will see someone enamored with Christ and not with my own pleasure, riches, reputation or career.

Thanks Del, for reminding me what happens when we look at God.
Harry Lee

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Preposterous "Gospel"

Maybe you've seen the ads on TV where a question is asked, "What if roadies ran the world?" or one of the variations on the theme. Well, today, I'm asking, "What if humans invented the gospel?"

What would it look like if I got to make all the choices. Would I dare suggest qualities of a desired Savior in a personal ad?

Wanted: One Savior, attractive, wind-blown hair, funny, personable, willing to forgive my sin, and purchase my entrance into heaven. Not demanding of sacrifice, and certainly not prone to talk about money and generosity, except to bless me and my family. Able to lead on a smooth road towards Glory, not too many bumps, instilling in me the lofty qualities that men admire, but more instantaneous and without all the trials. A Savior who will heal my pains, and help me shed unwanted pounds without dieting. A Savior willing to hand out financial blessings and one who won't keep talking about service of the poor, taking up my cross and persecution.

Hmmm. It looks like a gospel that revolves around me.

But the Gospel is really all about God. Start to finish. He calls, prepares, saves, and leads an undeserving group of followers down a road characterized by things we define as good and things we'd rather avoid: suffering. The Gospel is all about God getting the glory.

So why do we seem so prone to long for a me-centered gospel?

Perhaps because we don't realize that true joy and blessings come from embracing and treasuring Jesus as he really is in incomprehensible awesomeness. Pastor and author, John Piper calls himself a Christian hedonist because he has realized that true joy and satisfaction in life come from a life lived in service for the king. Since he longs for that kind of joy and satisfaction, he gladly gives his life up to make others glad in God, to find their treasure in Jesus, the King of Kings.

This is where I will find true joy.

Oh Lord, help me see the truth of the Gospel without the blurred lenses of my own selfishness.
Harry Lee

Friday, April 17, 2009

Domesticated Jesus

I'm excited about a new project. This week I received a contract offer for a new non-fiction book, "Domesticated Jesus." It will be published by P&R. Here's a sample, the introduction. Here's your chance to give me feedback in an early stage before it comes out in print. Thanks. Here's the intro:

Introduction:
Domesticating the Lord of the Universe

“DJ.” I might as well call him this, because effectively I’ve reduced the creator and master of the universe down into a concept so small I’ve nicknamed him. Domesticated Jesus. It’s a horrible name really, and my use of it hardly reflects his worth. But to say it, to write it here is so shocking that perhaps that’s the point after all. What we’re doing, unconsciously to a large part, is to bring down what is huge, wild and untamable and repackage him so that we can function.
To come to grips with reality will mean I’ve got to change, open my eyes and come to terms not only with his greatness, but also my smallness and that’s the grind. Sin has done this to me, landed me in this spot and so I’m vowing forever to fight this ironic switch, the one that’s been with mankind since a snake convinced my ancestors that they could be like God. That switch, of course, is the essence of sin: anything that makes a big God small and makes my small self big.
And in the process, I’ve domesticated the Almighty.
Tamed him. Advised him.
Put him in a box. Fenced him into a safe pasture.
Expected him to function like a divine vending machine.
I like that because I get to be in control or at least sit on a deluded cushion of mental comfort where I’ve convinced myself that I’m in the driver’s seat. The truth is, every time I come face to face with just a fraction of the reality of who Jesus is, I realize just how horribly weak my version of him has become.
And that sickens me. Shocks me.
And it should.
I’ve started writing this on a memorable day. It’s Easter. A day we celebrate a God who became man, died and beat death at its own game. I love Easter. At least for a day (or a few moments for some of us) the veil seems to lift and we acknowledge with our lips that God himself is with us. Alive. Seeing all. With us. Desiring to interact with us. And not just to hear me speak. Intimacy purchased with blood spilled beneath a Roman cross.
Easter is a fitting day to begin a new project like this one because it carries with it the hope that reality may rise in my heart as certain as the resurrection that we celebrate.
Right now, I’m sitting in an African airport waiting to board my plane. It’s shameful in a way that I’ve trivialized this most precious of Sundays for something as mundane as travel. Is this even more evidence of the pathology within me (and all of the church) where I bring down the big and make large the small?
A few moments ago my wife eyed my brown journal with a look of suspicion. I should tell you that we’re off on a trip to celebrate twenty-five years together. That’s twenty five years with a great deal of “putting-up” on her part. Medical school, surgical residency, giving up life in America because of my missionary dreams. So maybe her suspicion is deserved. This is supposed to be a vacation, not a working retreat.
I faced her. Honesty has worked wonders for our first twenty-five years. “I’m starting a new book.”
She’s heard this line a dozen times from me, each time the truth. “Fiction or non-fiction,” she asked.
“Non-fiction.”
“The close second,” she said, referring to a conversation we had earlier in the day. “Hope,” Pastor Crumley said, “runs a close second to love.” (Remember 1 Corinthians 12? Now remains faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.) I had told her that “The Close Second” would be a great title for a book on hope.
“Nope,” I said. “Domesticated Jesus.”
She didn’t hesitate. “I don’t like it. It makes Jesus sound effeminate.”
I don’t like it either, and that’s the point.
To even associate the name above all other names with a word like domesticated is offensive to the delicate Christian ear.
If this offends you, good. It should. I hope that my use of this distasteful title will shock me (and you) into a healthy pondering of just what we’re doing in this life we’ve identified (perhaps too generously) as Christian.
So how have I come to associate a word like domestic with Jesus?
I’ll state the obvious. Domestic. Tame. The unruly is gone. Away with unpredictable behavior. Wildness is only used in the past tense here.
The first animals that were domesticated were done so for milk. Mmmm. Keep those cows contained. Train them to stay in line. Hold still…and give me just what I want. Everyday. Twice a day in most cases.
If an animal is domesticated, it is here to serve me. My needs are central. Of course this may not always appear to be the case at first glance. I once heard someone ask what an alien would think after landing on earth for the first time in the center of an American city park. Dog owners leading around their little precious fur-bearing gems and picking up after their every little indiscretion. The alien might ask, “Who has domesticated whom?”
I’m going to ask you a favor. Indulge me while I seek to explore the ways that I have domesticated Christ. Yes, yes, I can hear your protests and believe me, they are my own. Jesus Christ cannot be domesticated!
I understand that. And my point is simple. While Christ cannot be tamed, I have effectively done just that, but only in my head. I domesticate him in the way I think about him, letting him into my life, but only so far until my control is threatened, and in effect, I send him back to his room.
When you domesticate an animal, you place limits on its location. You fence it in so that it can serve you. Have I not done this in my attitudes about Christ? Have I not invited the most holy, powerful, creative entity in the universe into my life and then relegated him into a slot so that he can participate in my life when it is most convenient to me or when I am hungry?
Some of you are offended all ready. It is not my purpose to spit on the image of Christ. My purpose is honorable; it is to exalt him, to find him as the grand treasure that his is and to challenge myself (and you along the way) to see him every day, to a greater extent, in reality.
To do that, I must peel away, layer by layer, the belittling mental images that have clouded my vision like a mature cataract blocking away the brightness of the sun’s rays. I promise to step on my toes first and if I tramp on the feet of God’s family it is with the hope that we may discover and savor the wonder of all that Jesus is.
I am an honest seeker and I invite you to sit with me and humor me as I extend this metaphor. My hope is that you will read these words as they are intended. I am no theologian unless you can stretch your mind to think of a Sunday arm-chair quarterback theologian of sorts.
Oh, I have years of biblical training to be sure, but I’m hardly qualified as a biblical authority. My expertise is in the area of medicine, surgery to be exact, and I’m sure a clinical aroma will seep into these pages before it’s all been said. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve found myself drawn as a storyteller (and I believe God is doing the drawing in this case). So this is the platform in which I intend to explore this subject with you: fellow seeker, pained by my own failure to see Jesus as he really is, clinician familiar with the pathology of human experience, and finally as a storyteller with a pen ready to illustrate our plight.
I write as a believer in Christ. This needs to be understood from the outset. I will borrow heavily from the New Testament, a book that is both authoritative and divine. Perhaps this is the stumbling block for many of you, one that must be overcome if we are to reach the same place together in the end. It is not my intention to validate this starting point. Many others far more qualified than I have written on the historical reliability of the Gospels and the Bible. I refer you to them to address these issues.
If you are not yet a believer in Christ (and here I use the term synonymous with true Christian, one who has placed his or her faith securely in Christ for salvation) then this book is a wonderful place to start as the ultimate question for every person is this: Who is Jesus?
If you’re not a Christian, I applaud you for even picking up a book by this title. Perhaps more likely, a well-meaning Christian friend shoved it into your hands. Consider this a safe place to begin an exploration. Here is your chance to find out what Christians really think without the I-know-all-the-answers-b-s. I’m an “insider” to the Christian movement. I grew up in the church and have spent years as a Christian missionary on foreign soil, so if anyone (outside of a seminary ivory tower) qualifies to offer an authentic opinion as to what we believe, I’m it. Some of what I say will apply mostly to Christians, so for that part, please assume the fly-on-the-wall mental posture and enjoy the fact that I’m trying to stir the pot and make Christians get real about what they believe or at least claim to believe. The world has seen enough phonies. I hope that this book can help you see that some of us are for real.
That said, I want to make something absolutely clear. A true judgment of Christianity should rest solidly on an investigation of Jesus himself, not on what I or any follower of his can say. We’ve certainly screwed up his message enough over the years and have proven that Christians are the biggest stumbling block to many sincere seekers.
If you are a Christian, then this book is also for you. My hope is to rattle the cage of your faith a bit, to challenge you to think critically about how much the Jesus you serve resembles the real deal, the Jesus of the Bible. I wish that you will think of this as a conversation with a friend, a fellow seeker, honest enough to ask tough questions. I am an imperfect fellow, stained from my own experiences, both good and bad. Think of me as a comrade in arms, nestled down with you in the same trenches of life, whispering together about some of the questions that have dogged humans from the beginning.
Here’s my problem. I’m terrified of putting this down on paper.
There. I’ve admitted it. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings, both spiritually and intellectually. How is it that I possess the boldness to proceed into waters that scare me and threaten to derail my own faith?
Because I think we all have a similar, yet unspoken fear. And we need to get it out and talk about it. Christians don’t have to hide and pretend there is no disconnect between our experience and what we see written in the pages of the Bible. We read stories of miracles, see a man who commanded waves and wind (and they obeyed!), took authority over demonic spirits, spoke breath into the dead and we wonder, do I really know Jesus?
If I have to be transparent (and I do, or this project will fail. as the foundation of our relationship is that I’ll be honest with you and you, in turn, need to be honest with yourself), I’ll admit that I’m terrified that if my eyes are opened someday to see everything in the light of truth, that the way I see the Jesus that I claim as Lord is but a dim reflection of reality.
This fear is what drives me onward. I want to know him.
I’m afraid that I can never do justice in describing or explaining the majesty, power and perfection of Jesus. That’s the nature of human discussions, I suppose. No matter how high above my own experience I reach, I’ll never be able to adequately pen the qualities of a perfect God. And so, even my attempts to expose how I have domesticated Jesus will do just that: I’m bound to domesticate him further, to wrap him within pages of description implies that he is small enough to describe. To have humans speak of him, to write of him, implies that we can in some way wrap the human mind around him.
Of course, that’s impossible.
And that is, in part, my point. It’s what I want to challenge myself to see, and you to hear. I want to raise my own awareness of my sinful tendency to make the big small and the small big.
This is the essence of my working definition. I am domesticating Christ any time my behavior reflects my belief in a saving Christ who is too small to handle my day-to-day problems of worry or anxiety. I am domesticating him anytime I wallow in guilt because, in essence, the power of the cross has been diminished in my thoughts. It has become insufficient to soothe my conscience.
Domesticating Jesus is so much more than just not recognizing his infinite power and falling on our faces in awe. He obviously doesn’t reveal himself in his glory, at least not in his full glory or I promise, I’d never get out of a facedown posture (of course, I wouldn’t survive a millisecond of his revealed glory, so even that statement is ludicrous). But these essays are about how I domesticate him everyday in so many ways, in the little things like doubt, anxiety or fear about the future.
From the start, I’ll share my bias. Not one of us on this side of Heaven will ever really understand Christ in all his glory. But every one of us can make an effort to remove a few of the filters that have dimmed the true light and replaced it with something else altogether.
Bias number two. I don’t have all the answers. If I accomplish my goal, you’ll be asking more questions at the end of our time together than before. Questions, I believe, are the essence of living faith, an irony that has seemingly passed right over a large number of us as Christians. Don’t think. Just believe.
Hooey. I could use cruder terminology here, but here at the beginning of our time together, I don’t want to risk turning you away.
I seek freshness. Honesty. Transparency.
Maybe if I use this approach, we can link hands so to speak, and make a baby step or two along a path towards a true Christianity. A Christian faith one notch purer to the one we started with.
So pull up a chair, fellow traveler. Let’s sit together to reason about a horrible thing that I’ve done.
I’ve domesticated the Lord of the universe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coffee is good for you!

OK, some of you would expect something very spiritual out of me this weekend. After all, Easter weekend is the pinnacle of our faith. And by posting this now, I am in no way making light of the awesomeness of the Easter holiday.

But, I've just found out some great news about my favorite morning beverage....coffee.

You might think that a missionary might be the most tolerant, able-to-drink-any-swill type of person. But Kenya changed coffee drinking for me. And here is my confession. I've returned from Africa as a coffee-snob. Sadly true. Kenya coffee beans are some of the best in the world, and when I came back here to the good old USA, I just couldn't get enthused about the old name brand coffee here.

Here's the great news. http://men.webmd.com/features/coffee-new-health-food?page=3

Coffee is good for you. Less chance of parkinsons, diabetes type II, cirrhosis. And it enhances athletic performance.

So in your face, coffee-maligners! I knew Coffee had to have an up side. Now, I've got a little medical proof.

So does that justify my addiction?

OK, I'm off my soapbox now. I need to go back to revising my next novel, "The Six Liter Club." (More on that later!)

Harry

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Decisions, decisions: Am I called to Africa?

I never really thought I'd be at this place at this time in my life. Here I am, a few years shy of fifty, but feeling a bit unsettled, wondering about the proper direction in my professional life.

The background: I finished surgery training and joined a very successful surgical practice in 1991. I worked that job, falling into step comfortably with the perks that go with it. I had the country house, a three-sixty degree view, twelve acres, plenty of time off, good church, and a nice community with good schools for my boys. Twelve years and lots of surgery in the tank, not to mention a little niche in the Christian book market for medical-theme related suspense.

And then I had to go and visit Africa on a short term mission to fill in for a surgeon in need of a break.....

I had the sense within a few weeks of arrival on the dark continent that the whole family needed to experience this. Service to a needy people. People who had no sense of entitlement like my patients back home. People grateful for whatever I could offer to relieve their physical misery.

I presented the idea to the family. With a lot of discussion (and a few details that needed to fall into place like someone offering to buy the doctor-house in the country) we all agreed: the Kraus family would spend a year in Kenya.

A year turned into four with a year back in the states to untie my business connections. By my own admission, this mid-life move was "career suicide." I left a job as a full partner with great benefits to take my family across the world and resettle in order to serve the poor.

My boys attended an international Christian school run by our mission. A phenomenal experience. Kenya was a boy-heaven place to grow up. Camping. Riding motorcycles among the giraffe and zebra. Service opportunities like helping to build mud huts for the community. Planting trees to promote reforestation. Climbing Kilimanjaro. Scuba diving in the Indian ocean. Killing birds for their supper with dart guns.

My work was stretching. I became general surgeon, urologist, plastic surgeon, pediatric surgeon (occasionally), trauma surgeon, neurosurgeon and even an obstetrician occasionally. But there was definitely a joy in the service. Rewards in Kenya were different. Grateful patients. The satisfaction of creating a solution in the midst of little provision. And then, there was the excitement of reaching out to a completely unreached people group, being the first Christian that many Muslims had ever met. Scary stuff, but also full of opportunity.

And patients facing tough physical crisis were coming face to face with faith decisions. Love was building a bridge strong enough to carry the gospel into thirsty hearts.

My wife? She made the best of the situation, provided the glue for a busy family functioning within a culture sans the ultra conveniences of frozen instant prep foods, a nice house (definitely not the doctor-house we left!), endured the bad roads, the government corruption, the constant stream of beggars at our door and frequent petty theivery and mostly smiled in the process. She worked in the international school where my children attended, teaching sewing and tutoring students who were falling behind. But the years of inconveniences took their toll. After our second son graduated from high school, we returned to the US for a needed furlough. Now, she would return willingly, but I understand she would be quite delighted if we made a decision to stay in America where life is easy and predictable.

Now, we've been back for eight months and I'm asking God again about his calling. Are we to return to Kenya?

In the US, I've been working as a surgeon an hour from home, as my old partnership job had long been filled by others with a vision for practice-building in America. So now I find myself fully qualified, mid-life without full time work, living far beneath the typical surgeon standard. It's not hard to see how my decisions for missionary service have impacted my family financially.

Do I regret service in Kenya and the impact it had on me and my family? NOT FOR A HEARTBEAT.

Unequivocally, the years in Kenya set the stage for my oldest sons to attend prestigious universities here. They learned so much more than they could have learned if they had been exposed only to western, doctor-rich, US culture.

Now the question returns: what about the future?

For a number of years, I've discounted the need for a heavy emotional experienced-based "call." Too many Christians sit on their backsides when opportunities for service abound, waiting for some heavenly experience to constitute a divine "call."

Before I left for Kenya for the first year, I remember looking at Galatians 6:10 which says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people..." I thought, OK, that's all the "call" I need. I have opportunity to do good, so I should do it. It was that simple. Oh, and he had to reassure me by providing all the other small answers: I needed to raise support successfully, we needed to sell the house etc. But the "call" issue was simple. I had opportunity and the means, so I went for it.

Now, I'm struggling with the same questions. My wife and third son are back in the USA with me and are loving it. Thoughts of returning to Kenya drag up memories of all the work of packing, moving, organizing, arranging, changing schools (again!), disrupted schedules, breaking friendships, and mental adjustments, adjustments, adjustments.... It is not easy for the missionary in foreign service to make these kind of life-altering decisions that impact not only themselves, but more importantly, the family.

There are three things important in considering a "call." Competency, character, and chemistry. Am I competent to do the job? Do I have the character to bring the love of God into the situation? Am I able to work well with the people? How are my relationships with other missionaries and the people I am serving?

More importantly, God calls married couples as couples, not individuals. I have to consider my wife and my son. What is best for them?

Part of the reason for my struggle intensifying now: An opportunity to practice with my old group in town may open up for me in the near future, but will come with strings: they will want at least a three to five year commitment that I won't "jump ship" again in mid-stream, heading off to serve in Africa. Can I give them that kind of commitment? To sign on the line and reenter my old surgical practice (a great practice, by the way, with opportunity to be light and salt here in my community) will effectively close the door on Africa.

Practice in Africa turned me into a very broad (experience, not fat!) surgeon, something I cannot be in the US. It is something I miss. But I must think of my family. What is best for my wife, my son?

God isn't in the business of writing an answer in the skies (not often, anyway). Would you pray that God will make this important decision clear?

Thanks for your support as my readers, but also as fellow prayer-warriors. We fight not against flesh and blood....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Salty Like Blood- Launch experiment

OK, a HUGE thank you to those of you who purchased my new novel from amazon.com on the launch day, March 24. Did it work? Only time will tell if it has a lasting result. Over the short term, here's what happened. At five o'clock, "Salty Like Blood" was ranked over 11,000. By a little after six, it had climbed as high as 133!

There are so many amazon categories. In the religious/mystery book category, the only book ahead of mine was "The Shack." No surprise there. The Shack has been an amazing seller for months now. In the Thriller/medical category, "Salty Like Blood" came in at number two behind "Scarpetta," a novel by Patricia Cornwell. Again, I'm in great company. In the literature/medical, I came in at number two right behind Jodi Picoult's new novel, "Handle With Care."

In the end, my hope is that my readers are challenged by the underlying theme of forgiveness, and amazon numbers can never measure that.

For those of you who participated in the "hour-buy" off amazon, your free books should have arrived by now.

Have a great day!
Harry

Monday, March 23, 2009

Free book for your help!

OK, I've never been much into the self-promotion scene. It has always felt a little greasy. That said, when you know something is a work of grace in your life (like the ability to write a good story), promoting it should bring glory to the ultimate source, that is, my loving Father. So, here's the deal: I want to give away a few free books. My new novel, "Salty Like Blood" launches officially tomorrow, 3/24/2009. I want to encourage my readers to purchase the book from www.amazon.com tomorrow between the hours of 5 and 6 pm. Why? Because if enough people buy the book in a short time, it is likely to get a better rank and perhaps gain the attention of fiction browsers. So, buy the book from amazon.com tomorrow during the 5-6 hour and then contact me through email through this website. The first twenty people who email me a copy of their order from amazon will get a free signed novel (one of my earlier novels) by me.

That's a great deal. No postage. Nada. Just a free signed book for helping me launch "Salty Like Blood."

How's that for an offer?

OK, I'm done promoting. I'll crawl back in my writing hole now....

Harry

Saturday, March 7, 2009

New Novel Q&A

OK, I thought a new format for this blog might be fun. Below is a list of reader questions for my upcoming novel, Salty Like Blood which will be released on March 24, 2009.

· How did you come up with the concept for this story? I was initially intrigued with the idea of whether a parent could forgive a man for abducting/killing his or her child. I envisioned a scene where the parent and the perpetrator of this horrible crime could meet face to face. What would they say to each other? Would it be possible for a parent to forgive?

· Forgiveness is such a challenging issue. Do you think it’s possible for a parent to forgive the impossible? Not only possible, but necessary. Remember, until we forgive, we are bound in a prison of our own bitterness. Will it be easy? Never!

· Can you share a few things that might make forgiveness easier? It is never easy, but it is easier if we remember a few things. 1- The ground is level at the foot of the cross. In other words, we’ve all sinned. We come as sinners to forgive those who have sinned against us. 2- We need to ask God to let us see the ones who have hurt us through his eyes, the eyes of a loving God who gave his son to die in their place. 3- The person who hurt us is not our enemy. Often they are the victim of our true enemy.

· How is your life in Africa reflected in this book? In many ways, Africa has started seeping into my writing. My life as a surgeon has been a continuous source of drama, bringing me into contact with all kinds of human conflict…great stuff for fiction! A village hospital in Africa can be a difficult place to be, a place of human suffering and blood, a place of pain and sweat…exactly the type of thing we delight in reading about (to experience vicariously), but would love to avoid in our personal experience. The Somali character in this book was inspired by my work with the beautiful Somali people who are refugees living in Kenya where I worked.

* How did you come up with this title? I was looking for a title with layered meaning. I wanted to use a metaphor, and use words that aren’t immediately linked in people’s minds. This title came to me while I was walking up the rocky dirt road leading from my house in Kijabe, Kenya to the hospital. Often writing ideas come to me like that. I’m not sitting at the keyboard trying to think it out; I’m away, doing something else, and my right brain comes up with it. It’s as if I’ve taken the issue off the front burner to let it simmer on the back burner and suddenly, without trying, the answer comes bubbling up! Salty not only refers to the fact that forgiveness sometimes demands sweat, the salt image comes up over and over because of the salt water setting.

* Why did you choose this issue (the issue of child abduction)? Because it is such an emotionally strong issue. It is charged, like dynamite. The explosion is so great in the life of my protagonist, Dr. Conners, that everything unravels. I wanted to use a strong issue to show that forgiveness isn’t just necessary for the one being forgiven; it is absolutely critical to rescue the life of the one who needs to grant forgiveness.

* Do you always write with a moral premise in mind? Not always in mind, but the moral premise is always there, in every story, or the novel will be groundless, always floating about looking for sure footing. The moral premise gives the novel direction. Without it, the reader may be entertained, but little else. The stories that stick with you long after the book is closed, always have a controlling theme. For Salty Like Blood, I’d state it like this: Unforgiveness leads to a loss of control and self-destruction; Forgiveness leads to emotional healing and wholeness.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Facebook friends. So 2009!

OK, I've finally relented to the pressure. Last week, I joined up. I actually made a facebook account. My editor at Howard has been telling me that I needed to do this to communicate with readers, other writers etc.
So I've started. I even listed my relationship status: "Married to Kris". My oldest son sent me an email saying that he was glad that our relationship is now "official". Never mind the twenty-five plus years we've been married. What counts in relationships these days is that you're official on facebook.
I'll have to say, I have a few initial impressions.
It is fun.
It is another time vacuum. I should be writing, reading or doing surgery or something else of value, but I wonder if someone has posted something on my wall on facebook?
And what about those game applications? Check out Twirl, an on-line game where you try to make as many words as you can from the six or so letters given. You've got two minutes. Go. Didn't do as well as you like. Try again. This is good for at least thirty minutes of wasting time.
Or play Lexulous. It's an on-line version of that old favorite, Scrabble. My wife and I have actually sat in the same room, each with a lap top open and played a game. Cool. Neat, and you don't have to put away the board when you're done. So 2009!
Or cruise your friends pages and spend time laughing at their photos.
Or be amazed at the details some people prefer to show. Do I really care if they are washing dishes? Alert the media, I'm going to Walmart.
But it is cool. I can message my friends, talk to my reader's group about books, and catch up with old school buddies. Do I have more gray hair than my classmates? Does this really matter? No, but it is cool.
So my hat is off to my editor. Time will tell whether I get anything out of this except a lot of fun.
So are you on facebook? Befriend me! Join the Harry Kraus Reader's group and talk about books. I'd love to meet you there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Salty Like Blood

Readers often wonder about the ins and outs of the publishing business. What goes on behind the scenes? How did you get a book contract? Did you write the novel before or after the contract was signed?

The process may be different for each novel. My upcoming release with Simon and Schuster (Howard Books), Salty Like Blood is the first of a two-book deal. For over a year, my agent, Natasha Kern, had been searching for the right fit for a novel that I'd written, The Six Liter Club. That novel was looked at by several Christian publishers who felt the content was too "edgy" for the Church market. That said, no secular publisher wanted it either. The faith element was just too strong! Alas, I'd hit upon a familiar trap with inspirational fiction. How was I to write realistically about the seedier side of life that needs to be touched by God's grace without offending those who were already Christian? My desire was to write from the viewpoint of a non-believer as she encountered difficult times, suspected abuse issues and eventually....the Christian faith. My protagonist was a tough lady, the first African-American female to become a trauma surgeon at a major university hospital in the South. She was smart, sexy, hardened by life experiences, and tough enough to make herself stand out in a man's world.
As sometimes happens in the publishing business, my editor at Zondervan, a great guy who pushed me to the next level in a series of books beginning with Could I have This Dance?, moved on to take on a new challenge at Howard Books (Simon and Schuster). When he was approached with taking my novel, The Six Liter Club, he was enthusiastic. We'd worked well together in the past and he relished the idea of acquiring another Kraus novel. But, as expected, Dave had a few ideas of his own: "I want that novel, but we don't want to do it as the first Howard book of yours. Give me something else first. Then, the market will be ready for The Six Liter Club.
It just so happened that I'd written the opening to a new novel, and my agent was thrilled that I seemed to be capturing a unique voice while launching towards the rough-water issues of a child abduction and the resultant marital pressure that often accompanies as a result. That novel, Salty Like Blood also delighted my potential editor. The deal was sealed. I'd deliver a new novel, Salty Like Blood, and a year later, Howard agreed to publish The Six Liter Club.
I'm getting excited to see the final product. You can see the cover on this site under "news" or go to www.simonsays.com and see a thumbnail. Simon and Schuster has even made a little video trailer for the book. It seems a bit cartoonish and cheesy, but it is fun. Go watch it at: http://www.simonandschuster.com/multimedia?video=10275992001&search=salty%20like%20blood&type=Video
Salty Like Blood is about forgiveness.
Is it possible to forgive someone who has done the unthinkable?
Salty Like Blood is about how life's successes are precarious: one domino falling results in a string of catastrophe.
As always, there is a thread of medical realism. My protagonist is a family doctor. The story is predominantly told through his eyes and the eyes of his wife.
Finally, I can say, it will be here next month!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Warren invocation: Inclusively exclusive!

For those of you who watched Rick Warren's invocation at Obama's inauguration, I wanted to add my two cents. And publicly thank Pastor Warren for praying in the name of Jesus.

Too often, Christians have shied away from praying in this way, not wanting to offend members of other faiths. While Christians believe it is proper to approach God in prayer in the name of Jesus, that concluding phrase is often left out, another nod to being PC. If we pray in the name of Jesus, we are thought to be exclusive of followers of Judaism or Islam. We don't want to offend, so instead of praying in the name of Jesus, we don't want to mention the name above all names and so we just fast forward to "amen."

But Rick Warren didn't shy away from the PC crowd and avoid the controversial phrase. He prayed specifically in the name "of the one who changed my life" and then followed it by using the Jewish name for Jesus, the Muslim name for Jesus, and finally the Christian name.

This was brilliant. No one can say anything against personal experience. And millions heard the bright testimony. Warren believes and proclaims to all that Jesus changed his life. And then he uses Jesus' name (exclusive, huh PCers?) but reaches out to Jews and Muslims by using the name of Yeshua and Issa (inclusive). So he was inclusively exclusive. Smart as a serpent, gentle as a dove, that purpose-driven pastor.

I applaud Warren for his words. When we pray, we do not seek to offend. But we cannot deny Christ. Thank you, Mr. Warren, for your prayer IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

Remember today to pray for Mr. Obama. And remember the one who opened the way to God through his cross and in whose name we pray.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Race you to the bottom!

I read something today from the book, "Gospel Transformation." "Christianity is a race--to the bottom."

There is a lot of depth (pardon the pun) in that statement. But what a great reminder for me as I start out in a new year. The kingdom that has captured me is a kingdom of paradoxes. My weakness is where I find his strength. In self-reliance, I find frustration and lack of fruit. There is no room for the pick-me-up-by-the bootstraps gospel when the cross is in focus. Remember, the real gospel of grace says, "you don't have any boots!"

Let me share something with you from my book, "Breathing Grace":

"Have you ever heard of a “café coronary?” It is medical slang for a person dying of an airway obstructed by food.

Pride is the spiritual café coronary.

When I was in high school, my family took a trip to see my grandparents. I liked taking trips because it was a chance to eat out in restaurants. On this Sunday afternoon, my family was eating together in a Howard Johnson’s. I wanted dessert, but my father nixed it, saying I didn’t need it. “And money doesn’t grow on trees.”
How many times have I used that same line on my kids now?
A few moments later, I looked up to see an elderly man stagger to his feet, clutching at his throat. I pointed. “That man can’t breathe!”
The next second, my father, a family physician, was on his feet. He reached around the man from behind and performed a Heimlich maneuver, popping the offending pickle from the man’s trachea. The man’s life was saved, and I remember the pride I felt after watching my father in action.
When my father went to pay the bill, the manager refused. My father had more than paid our debt by preventing a death in the restaurant.
What was my response? Looking back, I can see the gospel debt in my words.
“Since it was free, you should have let me get dessert.”
Amazing. I went from thankful for a saved life to thinking about my own stomach in light-speed. I’d like to say that was typical teenager behavior that I’ve outgrown, but the truth is, I can still slip from living in the sufficiency of grace (where I extend grace to others because I am living in acknowledgement of my own need for grace) to gospel debt in seconds.
But thankfully, just as quickly as a Heimlich maneuver can open an obstructed airway, acknowledging our need is the first step in opening up the floodgates holding back God’s grace."

You see, I think walking in humility is a key to walking in grace. And as quickly as a blocked airway precipitates a physical crisis, walking in pride sets us up in a dry position, thirsty for grace.

Anyway, just my thoughts. Walking forward in grace begins with humility and repentance.

I'll race you to the bottom!