Sunday Scripture ~ Proverbs 3:1, 2

“My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands;
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you.”   (Proverbs 3:1, 2)

Obedience from the heart is the first evidence of belonging. We don’t remember God’s laws and keep his commandments in order to become God’s children. Our perfect and holy Parent longs for obedience that flows from and provides evidence for a relationship of love and trust. 

Certainly, we want our children to get along with others, obey house rules, and be kind to their siblings, but unless their good behavior flows from a desire to please God and to live in right relationship with him, we’re just producing a generation of rule-followers.

This Sunday, let’s commit ourselves to obedience that flows from a desire to please our Father and to live in right relationship with him.

Ever trusting for grace,

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Is It Time to Declutter Your Soul?

My friend Joanne was continually clearing off her kitchen table–with little success to show for her valiant efforts. Whenever we talked on the phone, I could hear her moving about, tethered by a 1970’s era phone cord, and I knew what she was doing. She was clearing off the kitchen table. Again. Even so, whenever I visited, the piles had returned, and books, mail, groceries, and newspapers would need to be swept to one side, a vivid, visual image of her hospitable heart making room for me in her full and busy life.

In the decades that have passed since my last visit with Joanne, there have been seasons in which my soul felt like her kitchen table, weighted down with untidy piles that I shuffled and moved around, but never really tended to. The clutter never failed to get in the way of what I was trying to accomplish.

Emily P. Freeman has just such a table in her own backstory, and when she set out to produce a podcast and, eventually to write a book called The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, her goal was to share her own space-making practices. As we learn to clear our cluttered tables and souls, we make room for life-giving activities and create space for listening to the voice of God.

Decisions are Hard

According to Freeman’s research, American adults are privileged to make over 35,000 decisions every day, and over two hundred of these are about food. (14) With that in mind, as we clear away the chaos, priorities and categories become clearer, and we find, among all the daily decisions that there really is “space for our souls to breathe.”

Decisions are hard, and we want to make good ones. I, personally, want divine guidance on the level of sky writing:  “Buy the Silver Honda” in puffy, white lettering against a blue sky of clarity. Since this has never been my experience, I’m in the market for quiet wisdom that will heighten my listening skills for the guidance God does choose to provide, and so I found myself pausing and paying attention to Emily’s gentle suggestions for discovering my Next Right Thing.

“Do the next thing” as a mantra and as marching orders came into its own through the ministry of Elisabeth Elliot, but it actually has its roots in an anonymous poem, assuring believers that “Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, and guidance are given. Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, Trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.  Certainly Jesus held to a “next right thing” mindset in his ministry among people. Whenever he told someone to hold out a hand, pick up a bed, wash in a pool, or go home, he was offering an object lesson in the importance of small acts of faithfulness.

Thoughts on Decluttering

Simple, soulful practices offered in The Next Right Thing bring grace to the reader’s cluttered table. For example, pro/con charts have been toxic for me in the past because I’m intent on (obsessed with) a successful outcome.

These thoughts felt like someone opened a window to the light and the fresh air:

  • “You can only make decisions based on what you know at the time. We live in an outcomes-based culture where the correctness of our choice seems based on the success of the result… Successful outcomes might look great on paper, but we want to build our lives on love, faith, connectedness, redemption, laughter, wholeheartedness, joy, and peace.”
  • “We make our list alongside Jesus and bring these things to him, asking him in every situation what he wants us to do. And then we trust that our desire can be trusted because he isn’t just with us; he lives within us and he’ll let us know what we need to know.”

Doing the next thing in love lightens the decision-making load by fine-tuning our focus. Following Jesus certainly involves multiple and complex choices over the course of a lifetime, but this is accomplished by following Jesus for the next ten minutes. And then the next. He has promised us light for our path, but most of the time my eyes are darting off the path, worried about eventualities that never materialize. By faith, we can clear away the clutter of indecision and walk with confidence and joy in the light that’s given as we do the next right thing.

Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Trusting Jesus for today’s next right thing,

Michele (1)

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate  If you should decide to purchase The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Sunday Scripture ~ Psalm 24:1

The last rays of sunshine slant their filtered light through the trees, while dragonflies and toddlers chase each other on a summer evening.  A backyard circle of lawn chairs holds the body of Christ, gathered around Truth that transcends seasons.  Before we break out the watermelon and set the fire pit ablaze, our pastor rises and reads:

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
The world and those who dwell therein . . .”

There’s more, of course, to Psalm 24 – weighty words about a righteousness that is not my own opening the way to God; a call to mindfulness that God is on His way, that He’s always in the wings.

But on an evening still warm enough to sit in a lawn chair
and just cool enough to need my favorite navy blue sweater, verse one was enough.

The Earth is His, and the fullness of it is an overflowing grace gift.  These people are His, dear and ever dearer, as they sing “Shout to the Lawd” and love Him in quiet, practical, long-haul ways.

He’s here.
He’s everywhere.
The Earth overflows, but in the gathering of His people, the speaking of His Truth-Words, the fullness seems a little fuller.

This Sunday, let’s gather around HIM in thanksgiving,

The Gift of Language and the God Who Speaks

The recent biographical movie featuring the life of J.R.R. Tolkien captures him saying, “After all, what’s language for? It’s not just the naming of things, is it? It’s the life blood of a culture, a people.”

Language and the way we use it reveals our thinking and our character. The structure of a language reveals what’s important to the people who speak it. In Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, pastor and author Eugene Peterson argues that language is a gift from God through which we sing and pray and, using the very same syntax and parts of speech, can also order a burger at the drive through or tell a story to a two-year-old. Peterson describes the language Jesus used in his three embodied years by capturing a line from an Emily Dickinson poem:

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.”

Particularly in Jesus’s parables, it’s clear how the truth “comes up on the listener obliquely, ‘on the slant'” (20) and then overtakes one with its clarity. His use of language wars against our natural tendency to compartmentalize speech into secular and sacred spaces. Jesus used the language of the people and the metaphors of his space and time to tell stories and to pray.

Jesus in His Stories

The four gospel writers differed in their focus, but collaborated in presenting the ways in which Jesus used language to preach, teach, and converse his way through first-century Palestine. Peterson zooms in on the ten parables unique to Luke’s gospel to illustrate Jesus’s “story telling way with words” (31) that give us deeper insight into God and His ways:

Life is Personal by Definition

“When we deal with God, we are not dealing with a spiritual principle, a religious idea, an ethical cause, or a mystical feeling.” (44)

Avoid Chattering Godtalk

“A lot of our talk about ‘the things of God’ is a way of avoiding the personal presence of God in the hurt and hungry people we meet.” (56)

The World is Prodigious in Wealth

“God does not barely save us, doling out just enough grace to get us across the threshold of heaven. He is lavish.”

Jesus in His Prayers

The language of prayer is “local and present and personal.” (160) Words that bubble up from the heart are the same when addressed to God or to a close friend. The six New Testament transcripts of Jesus’s prayers mentor readers in the language of prayer–and also in the absolute necessity of it in a following life.

Peterson advises readers to leave room for silence in prayer, a form of punctuation in which monologue is transformed into conversation. Then, he cautions about the ease with which we can lapse into pretending to pray, to use, “the words of prayer, practice the forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer, and never pray.” (161)

Jesus’s prayers sing his life of unity with God and shimmer with intimacy that invites us to advance beyond the “I’ll pray for you” narrative and jump into something more relational, substantial, and whole in our conversations with God.

Involved and Participatory Language

Peterson’s writing is almost unbearably relevant and always leaves me flipping pages to check for chapter endings because I’ve become saturated with more truth mid-chapter than I can absorb or assimilate. His insights crackle and spark, leading me into a new way of reading a familiar parable that intensifies its intended message and anchors it in the narrative arc of Jesus’s purpose as The Storyteller.

Tell It Slant sets up a framework for exploring large and sweeping concepts (parables and prayer) using pictures and particulars harvested from Peterson’s experiences and deep understanding of Scripture. He advocates for a use of language that is both “involved and participatory” (68), a use of words that rejects complacency and guards our hearts against depersonalizing God. To that end, he offers the stories and the prayers of Jesus as a model for how language can witness to the holy while still anchoring us to this very real and startling world.

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Grace and peace to you,

michele signature[1]


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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The Treasure Buried in Your Weakness

The phone rang, and it was bad timing, but I answered it anyway out of habit. A friend from church was looking for some very specific information, so the call was quick. We accomplished the purpose and the call ended.

But the phone rang again. My friend had heard something in my voice, and she had heard accurately:  emotions close to the surface, the sound of a day that had already gone on too long.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I don’t recall the specifics of my lie, but I’m certain the word fine would have figured prominently in it, and so I foolishly squandered the opportunity to admit that I was tired, overwhelmed, and feeling like a failure. I dodged an offer of grace.

Fine is a lie that isolates hearts and drives pain underground, and the soul that is determined to be perceived as fine will never uncover the treasure that is buried in weakness. Alia Joy offers readers the gift of words to put a shovel in their hands as she labors alongside them, patiently excavating the truth that blessing comes with vulnerability. Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack reveals Alia’s own story of poverty and longing and unearths her struggles with bipolar disorder, chronic illness, and faltering faith.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

As North American Christians, we don’t have a category for struggle that does not go away. We are uncomfortable with the poor, the mentally ill, and the unlovely-unloveables who do not enhance our Instagram stories or look the way they “should” in our pews. Having been sold a narrative that includes gleaming smiles and answers to prayer that arrive just in the nick of time, we need a theology that is formed by Jesus’s teaching in the Beatitudes, for, ironically, poverty of spirit qualifies us for Kingdom living.

“We say God is all we need but we don’t live like it.” (37)

Leaning into our longing, listening to all our souls lack, and putting a name on our need sets the table for true biblical lament. Armed with a theology that accounts for emptiness and ache, we are able to sit with our own faithless flounderings and to speak truth into a friend’s anger or loss without expecting an abracadabra moment. Alia’s writing admits the risk in this, for, it is much easier to pray for the good life and to hang out with those who are living it.

For Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven

Fortunately, Scripture provides solid examples of men and women of great faith who poured out their disappointment with God in no uncertain terms and yet persevered in obedience. Their honesty did not disqualify them from God’s love or His service.

“We are not better Christians when we call the hardest parts of life ‘good.’ But we can learn to call God good in the hardest parts of our lives.” (156)

It is an act of faith to embrace the goodness of God while our story is still unfolding. It is a practice of radical hope to invite others into that unfinished story. As we embrace our own Glorious Weakness, we receive a refresher course in the “phonics of hope.” (196)
And who knows?
With a little practice–and a few more disarming phone calls– even the most stubbornly fine among us might find ourselves speaking fluently about a God who sits with us in our sadness and enters our brokenness.

Together, may we find grace to trust for restoration that comes in ways we cannot prescribe and may not have chosen, but that, nonetheless, reveals God’s great Kingdom here on earth.

 

Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Bearing witness to the goodness of God in the most unlikely places,

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Sunday Scripture ~ John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”   (John 1:1)

John begins his story about the life of Jesus on this planet by revealing to his readers what it had taken him nearly three long years to absorb:
Jesus, the man who walked dusty Palestinian roads, who ate and drank and got tired and spoke gritty truth, was more than just a teacher or a prophet. He was God in the flesh.

John wants his readers to begin with awe and then move on into the stories of what Jesus did and what he said, for the words and the deeds will support that feeling of awe. Jesus, the Word, embodied God’s message to us. He bore witness to the truth about God and he, himself, is the message from God.

This Sunday, let’s rejoice in God’s great rescue plan, and may He help us to see the glory of it and to worship in response.

Ever in awe,

3 Wise Filters that Will Improve Your Entertainment Choices

Greasy fingers met in a communal popcorn bowl, and laughter overpowered the details of dialogue: “Hey, somebody rewind! I missed that line!” It was family movie night, and the flickering image on the screen played second fiddle to the allure of an extended bed time. With cold pizza congealing at room temperature on the coffee table, we were entertained by stories that fed our imaginations and showed up in the kids’ make believe long after the credits rolled.

Raising kids pre-internet was a dreamy business compared with the challenges young parents navigate in 2019. In the days of VHS, long before Andy Crouch’s wise and urgent tweets about “putting technology in its place,” we managed tech by setting a kitchen timer for games of Oregon Trail (played on a clunky desktop computer) and by reserving screen time for Disney movies watched en masse on Friday nights.

Colossians 3 offers three tests—three wise filters for my entertainment choices to help me to embrace the positive without falling into the trap of making entertainment into an idol that interferes with godly priorities and habits of holiness. I’m writing about Paul’s insights for the June Redbud Post, and I invite you to join me over there, where the theme is Entertainment Exhaustion. Whether you use your free time to read a book, play a game, or watch a movie with your family, you are called to bring every activity into connection with Jesus. It’s my sincere hope that the offerings you find over on the Redbud Post will both encourage and inspire you today.

Giving thanks to God,

 

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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