Standing Ready to Be Amazed

The average human being lives approximately 30,000 days — which sounded like a long stretch of time until I did the math and discovered that, as of today, I will have lived 20,005 of mine.  Catherine L. Morgan envisions these Thirty Thousand Days as a journey home, traveling on a rattle trap train toward a sure and certain future of abundance.

In the meantime, however, there is waiting, and there is heartbreak, and no matter how well we try to manage our journey, there is always regret.  This following life, then, is one in which we look boldly at Solomon’s cynical Old Testament pronouncement that “all is vanity” and “a chasing after the wind” — all the while trusting in Jesus’ promise of an abundant life.

Living Well

Offering her own wisdom alongside that of others, Catherine lays down a cobblestone path of words for this journey gleaned from her personal reading of a broad range of authors and thinkers.  She speaks out of the context of experiences gained through inner-city ministry with her family in an impoverished section of the sprawling Denver metro-area.  Far from Chicken Soup for the Soul, her conclusions are a bracing cup of strong tea — no sugar.

If we want to live well within the gift of our thirty-thousand days:

  • We will walk purposefully.
  • We will offer up our hearts to care passionately.
  • We will open our hands to give generously and unclench our grasp from around the things of Earth.
  • We will love deeply because it is commanded — not because it is easy.
  • We will stand firmly in a dangerous faith.

Bold Questions

Pursuing “the things over which Christ presides” is a chasing after light, a darkness fighting strategy if ever there was one.  And this is the gift of viewing our days on this planet as a temporary prelude to a glorious eternity.  Childlike, we will ask questions that promote a bold following:

Why not read Psalm 37 with a reckless abandon?  What would it be like to wholeheartedly trust, dwell, do good, and delight?  Can I even imagine a life without fretting?

What if my present circumstances are a canvas against which the glory of God will be radically put on display?  What if this current set of troubles is “light and momentary” after all?

Am I able to view my marriage — or my singleness — as a mission?  Can I hold my church membership in the same light as a gym membership in which I “expect to sweat, to strain, to run an extra mile?”  Let this thought marinate to adjust your perceptions on community and the local church:

“I am an alien and stranger here in the thick of a great battle.  If I am engaged in this battle, I will need the refuge of the church.  Love will sustain me.  If I do not perceive this need, maybe I am not really engaging the fight.”

Leaning into the truth that I am mightily loved by God, that He delights in my delight, I am emboldened to discover where this great love might lead.  Catherine points out a pattern in the book of Acts that I’m eager to see reproduced in my life and in the lives of those I love:  “The disciples prayed, and then they were amazed.  They prayed, and then they were amazed.”

With thirty thousand days ticking by so quickly in this journey, I stand ready to be amazed.

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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

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God Moves Mountains When Women Pray

Last year, I started keeping a list of prayer requests, dated and described, and then, to my great surprise — answers!  Clear direction for a son, help and success in a ministry opportunity, a new and wonderful job for my husband.  Reviewing the list from time to time, I’m reminded to give thanks, and I’m reinforced in my thinking that when it comes to prayer, there is always something new and fresh God wants me to know.

Women Who Move Mountains by Sue Detweiler is clear and comprehensive enough to serve as a primer on prayer for the uninitiated, but Sue has shared so many deeply insightful stories and has woven them so beautifully with Scripture that those who are further along on the journey will also find a rewarding read.  Twice in the gospels, Jesus talks with His disciples about mountains moving at their command.  Of course, this is not a matter of showcasing the disciples’ great faith, but rather, the power of God at work on behalf of those who believe.

I have been guilty of praying small and safe, so it was a challenge to hear Sue’s rallying cry to pray with confidence, boldness, and grace.  The book is set up with odd-numbered chapters covering real and raw stories of women who witnessed mountain-moving responses to their prayers, while even-numbered chapters pose questions based on living the principles here at ground level.

Belief in the ever-present, always-available Maker of Heaven and Earth is the foundation for a vibrant prayer life.  Unfortunately, fear, shame, anxiety, perfectionism, entitlement, and timidity often derail us in the mountain-moving life.  Staying close to Truth is transformational, and this becomes evident in the lives of women whose childhood wounds have been healed and whose “orphan mindset” has been replaced with assurance that in God’s eyes, they are a much-loved daughter.

Sue hammers on one truth about this following life that almost cannot be overstated:

“Just because you obey God does not mean that it will be smooth sailing forever and ever.”

Our obedience opens the door to God’s help and connects us to God’s plan, but prayer requires trust at every level.  Offsetting the vending-machine-God mentality, Sue reminds readers that Jesus suffered greatly in His time on this planet.  The following life is not lived above emotional pain and loss.  Women who feel like the walking wounded are encouraged to turn to God rather than blaming God for their wounds.

Biblical examples of women like Hannah who prayed for a child and Esther who prayed for the rescue of her people demonstrate that prayer is a powerful weapon, that it launches us into our destiny, and that — amazingly — it is as simple as a conversation in which we transparently come before God bearing “our stuff.”

Just as conversation builds relationship between people, prayer is a day-long interaction with God.  And since it is not simply prayer or my puny faith, but rather GOD who moves mountains, I want to press into that relationship and know the heart of this powerful God.  Indispensable to our prayer life is a right understanding of who He is, and Sue has shared rich Scriptural insights:

  1.  Jesus is uniquely equipped to comfort and strengthen us when we face rejection.  Remember what happened in Nazareth?  When He challenged the hometown crowd, they were ready to drive Jesus off a cliff!
  2. It’s an American idea that if God calls you to a task and if He is truly in it, then success always follows.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well:  “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Some of our most enriching spiritual growth experiences come through failure.
  3. Jesus always had choice words of condemnation for the Pharisees in the crowd and set the example for us.  “Becoming a woman who moves mountains means you care more about what Jesus thinks than the Pharisees in your life.”

F.U.N.K. and H.O.P.E.

Sue employs a couple of creative acronyms to stimulate readers to prayer that results in renewed thinking and powerful life-change.  The next time you feel as if you are in a funk, realize that you are Floundering Under Negative Knowledge.  Everything that seems dark and wrong may be very true, but staying close to God’s truth fights the slide into the pit.

Likewise, when the dark tunnel seems endless, hope says, “Hold On, Pain Ends!”  God offers His hope when ours has long ago sputtered to a stop.

God-confidence gives perspective for the long haul of praying in light of God’s specific promises.  There is so much that He wants to do as He trains us in righteousness, so many good works, prepared beforehand, that are waiting for us who walk with Him. Thanks be to God that we have been invited to come before Him in confidence, boldness, and grace.

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This book was provided by Bethany House via Interviews and Reviews in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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

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Living the Chinese Dream

It is reasonable to think that a book like Street of Eternal Happiness could be written about any stretch of road on the planet — even this country hill where white clapboards and long driveways are separated by acres of margin.  Even here, I’m sure this winding road is lined on both sides with serial narratives.  The difference is, of course, that I have not lived my way into the stories behind these thermal-pane windows as Rob Schmitz has managed to do on the two-mile expanse of real estate in Shanghai that he calls home.

Lined on both sides by plane trees left over from an historic season of French occupation, the street is shaded by tangled branches overhead.  Its restaurants and shops testify to the economic boom Schmitz has chronicled in his role as NPR’s Shanghai correspondent.  Skimming around the traffic and pedestrians on his bicycle, he discovered a way of understanding the economy and interpreting the city by meeting and knowing its people.

“Better City. Better Life.”

Shanghai was showcased as the model Chinese city during the 2010 world’s fair, and the slogan “The city . . . makes life more beautiful” showed up as a slogan on billboards everywhere, reminding citizens that China was on a trajectory of growth and improvement.  A nation of contradictions, attaining the spot as  the second largest economy in the world does not guarantee the cessation of spitting on the sidewalk or of total strangers shoving each other in the line for the subway.

Beginning in a second-floor sandwich shop, Rob constructs a map in which people are the primary landmarks.  With him, we wind our  way down a lane peppered with demolished houses — still occupied by their determined owners; pop in on a bickering couple from the Lost Generation; and become embedded in the lives of a flower shop owner and her left-behind children, now adults and living the consequences of a broken system.  Street of Eternal Happiness is characterized by the journalistic excellence of Rob’s NPR Marketplace series where the story first saw daylight.  At the same time, the book incorporates all the satisfying elements of a fictional page turner.

A favorite story thread involved the discovery of  a box of antique letters, the record of a correspondence between a family based on the Street of Eternal Happiness and their father, interred in a 1950’s Maoist-era labor camp.  Hardship and shame drive the narrative which ends up in New York City where the prisoner’s youngest son has immigrated to seek a larger and broader life.

A Land of Contradictions

When Xi Jinping became China’s ruler in 2013, his first speech was a call to the nation to realize “the Chinese dream.   With millions who still remember the totalitarian Mao regime, it will be interesting to see how this will be interpreted going forward in this land of wild contradictions where old and new collide in some pretty amazing ways.

For example, in spite of its vast geography, China adheres to one time zone.  By golly, if it’s 6 a.m. in Beijing, then it’s 6 a.m. EVERYWHERE!  So, even though it is 3,000 miles from Shanghai to Kashgar (think New York to Los Angeles!), their citizens all leave for work at the same time — Kashgar citizens arrive at work just in time to watch the sunrise.

The cultural norm of children caring for elderly parents has been interrupted by the need for adult children to move to a city to find work.  Occasionally senior citizens file suit against these children for elder abuse and neglect.  Ironically,  adult children may send their own offspring back “home” to be cared for by grandparents since children are ineligible for advanced educational opportunities if they do not live and attend elementary and secondary schools in their city of origin.

Taoism is China’s only indigenous religion, but a flood of philosophies have rushed into the vacuum.  Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, a smattering of Marxism, and rampant materialism swirl into the mix, each one making just enough of an impact to bring confusion to a new generation of adults —  sometimes referred to as Fenqing (“Angry Youth”).  Any objectionable language in Street of Eternal Happiness comes from the lips of the old and the young, venting their frustration and anger over their inability to sort through so many webs created by the mix of tradition, practicality, honor and shame juxtaposed with desire and opportunity.

Two Very Different Mindsets

A burgeoning economy in a land that does not recognize or respect the notion of personal property is built on a foundation of sand.  For the American raised to believe that independence is the ultimate good and that institutions should harness the economic power of the individual, it is difficult to understand the clan-orientation of Chinese culture.  Whether based on the Communist Party or the family unit, China’s economy is geared toward a tendency to “corral dreams into a single national dream.”

For all our ability to communicate and assimilate technologically, China is still, in many ways, a land shrouded in mystery, and it’s clear that Rob Schmitz has some significant questions concerning the policies and practices of present day China. Even so, the tone of his writing does not breathe judgment into the room, but instead communicates the author’s heart of compassion and genuine interest in the individuals who surround him.

In many ways, this has been an indictment of my own insular ignorance around the lives that run parallel to my own in this rural zip code.  I’m challenged to press into the stories behind the lives and to attempt a deeper understanding of the challenges caused by context and belief systems.  Leaning in to heart beat of the story helps me to see that, in many ways, the differences that define all of us on this country road can be traced back to what we believe about the meaning of life and what we value and hope for as we go about the business of living our own unique versions of the American dream.

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This book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

Is Reading the Bible Different from Reading Any Other Book?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book.  A Huffpost Survey indicates that 88% of respondents own a Bible, yet only 1 in 5 Americans read the Bible on a regular basis.  At one end of the spectrum are those who consider it alongside and equivalent to any other ancient text.  At the other end, it’s seen as a magical book that we can open anywhere and find immediate and personal guidance. Furthermore, multiple surveys reveal that biblical illiteracy is at an all time high (and growing!).  Has the Bible become the book that we revere . . .  but never open?

In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper addresses the way we handle Scripture, and like a physician, prescribes regular and hefty doses of Truth for the health of the human heart, for the heart contains a “template with a form that corresponds to the glory of God.”   With our hearts “packed hard with loves of other things,” it’s easy to live an entire life without ever seeing and savoring the glory of God.  Since God has, indeed, revealed His glory in His written Word, can we read words on a page and come away with spiritual transformation?  Is reading the Bible different from reading any other book, and, if it is, how and why?

A Different Purpose

Building a case over the course of several chapters, John Piper uses intense imagery and moves back and forth between the voices of “Dr. Piper” and “Pastor John” to argue that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is this:

” . . .that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

He introduces each new implication by devoting a chapter to its unfolding, and then pauses for frequent review along the way.  The apostles Paul and John provide the foundation for the truth that it is possible for the glory of Christ to be put on display for 21st century believers by reading a text that was written by eye-witnesses — and, thereby, to share in the very same glory that they saw.  

First, the familiar words of John 20 (which give the purpose of the gospel) tie the written word to belief, and then, in his first letter, John affirms that his readers will see the glory of Christ “shining through the inspired writing.”

In addition, Paul, in Ephesians 3:3-8, essentially states, “When you read my words, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

A Different Response

The point of all this seeing of glory is two-fold:

  1. God has provided His Word as a means for believers to grow in affection for God, to savor and to enjoy God.
  2. The intended outcome of this emotional response to truth is transformation into the image of Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was on to this centuries ago when he wrote:  “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”  If you are hearing echoes of Piper’s signature statement that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,”  we’re on the same page!

A Supernatural Reading

Reading the Bible Supernaturally, then, is the only way to accomplish God’s purpose for the reader, for “God intends for us to read His Word in a way that involves actions and experiences of the human soul that are beyond ordinary human experience.  Seeing the glory of Jesus is not accomplished merely with our ordinary physical eyes, but with ‘the eyes of [our] hearts (Eph. 1:18).”  We depend upon God’s supernatural help because we are predisposed to spiritual blindness and bent on colluding with the enemy in our own deception and destruction.

It is this need for divine intervention that was behind Jesus’ accusation that the Pharisees (proud scholars of The Law, every one!) had “never read” the Scriptures!  Their eyes had certainly passed over the scrolls, and chances are they had memorized great chunks, but a supernatural reading (a right reading) of Scripture has not occurred until the essence has been absorbed and the heart has interacted with the substance of the message.

Fullest Use of Your Natural Powers

Without an open book, open eyes, the ability to make sense of grammatical structures, and the ability to intuit meaning from written words, there will be no reading.  Add to this the need for focused attention, a rested brain, adequate nutrition and exercise (and caffeine?) to aid in alertness, and the possibilities are endless, because — going back to our original question — the answer is Yes and No.  Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because of the need for dependence on God to accomplish His spiritual purposes.  However, it is exactly like reading any other book in that it will not yield its contents from a remote spot on my nightstand or in my backpack — unopened.

The plain hard work of sitting oneself down in a chair for repetitive reading with a pen and an open book and a list of questions — only half answered — is the natural component of reading Scripture.   It is met with the supernatural work of God Who takes the natural birth process and incarnates a Messiah, and, therefore, is able to intervene and bring about spiritual enlightenment to a human heart.

“God gives the miracle and we act the miracle.”

For someone who has been reading the Bible her entire adult life, Reading the Bible Supernaturally offered truth that I already know but practice so imperfectly that it was important for me to hear it all again in a new way.  Those familiar with Piper’s writing will already know his acronym for the cooperation between God and humanity in spiritual formation (A.P.T.A.T.).  I had not stumbled upon I.O.U.S., but copied it into my journal as an important reminder that when I open the Bible, I am dependent upon supernatural help for the kind of seeing, savoring, and transformation that God desires for me:

I – Incline.  “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Ps. 119:36).
O – Open.  “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18).
U – Unite.  “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).
S – Satisfy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).

God invites believers into an aggressive pursuit of Truth — and then stands by to assist.  When we open the pages of Scripture, there is more going on than meets the eye.  He “watches over [His] Word to perform it.”  He makes huge claims that the Word will accomplish His purpose and will not fail.  The natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally is a metaphor for the entire process of sanctification, a delightful paradox in which God inspires our work, enhances the impact, and radiates His glory as he accomplishes His purposes in the world.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

CaptureReading the Bible Supernaturally is John Piper’s follow up to his 2016 work, A Peculiar Glory, in which he examines the concept that the Bible reveals its complete truthfulness by the shining forth of a self-authenticating, peculiar, divine glory.  It provides helpful background, but even more important, it helps to put on display the uniqueness of God’s Word as the means by which we see and savor the glory of God.  I reviewed the book last year when it came out, and you can read my thoughts and get an overview here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

 

The Work of Home

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention.  Of course, at the far right side of this equation of work and home, there’s a family that knows they’re loved and a home that is well-lived in.

The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and it is one of the most startling discoveries of my life that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

The importance of home and the words of Scripture that shape a right understanding of home are reason enough to spend two weeks pondering Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place.  Last week in Part I, we laid the foundation of God as Homemaker and the Bible as a story of homecoming, welcome, and longings fulfilled.  In Part II, Jen lifts her eyes from her own lunch-packing duties and makes this stunningly succinct observation:

“To love is to labor.”

She goes on to trace the connection between the routines of domesticity and the “quotidian mysteries” of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God.

In the parlance of Keeping Place, “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures:  ‘avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

Labors of Love

It is, therefore, possible to draw important conclusions about the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Just as Jesus is portrayed as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, the believer is called to a life of “two -dimensional” servanthood, directed toward God and offered to our neighbors.

2.  The “yawning attention” (131) paid to the details of tabernacle construction in Exodus also points toward care and provision for worship — a house for God.  In referring to my “home church” for the past twenty years,  I have spoken truer than I realized.  The welcome and belonging that my family has appreciated there has strengthened us, and, furthermore, we do our fellow parents a huge favor when we reinforce the same messages that they are speaking to their young charges at home.  In fact, research is revealing that “the most important predictor of whether children from Christian families keep their faith into adulthood is the number of multigenerational connections they enjoy at church.”  This statistic should be on a billboard at planning meetings for youth ministries.

3.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.  In the early church, one sure sign of a conversion to Christianity was a commitment to generosity and mission.  When Jesus put the spotlight on acts of service performed by the Good Samaritan, He underscored the truth that “a neighbor is the one who takes up the housekeeping.” (142)

4.  With marriage rates in the U.S. falling (In 2015, only 50.5% of adults were married), it’s time to look at the reasons why people marry and to equip prospective brides and grooms with tools for doing the routine work of marriage — frequent application of the words “I’m sorry” alongside the daily willingness to “keep choosing love’s bearing, love’s believing, love’s hoping, and love’s enduring all things.” (155)

5.  Keeping Place is a matter of being willing to welcome others into “our place.”  Gathered around the welcome of a prepared meal, no matter how simple, “the table is a burning bush.  Around the feast we are enflamed with the presence of God.” (163)  And is it not God’s way to spread a feast before His people?  We meet around a table and “the feast preaches” the gospel to our hungry and thirsty heart.

6.  The idea of Sabbath precedes the Ten Commandments in Scripture, and is connected from the outset with housekeeping: the provision of manna in Exodus 16 is scheduled to make room for Sabbath rest.  As the Author and Finisher of Home whose Son bore our homelessness, God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God.
Amen.

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This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Last week I spent time interacting with Part I of Keeping Place (click here to catch up) in which Jen laid a foundation with the history of home and the place home plays in Scripture and in our understanding of the gospel. I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that it’s been a delight to linger over her words for two weeks.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

A Theology of Home

Rootedness was always the thing that both repelled and intrigued me.  I left my parents’ home at the age of seventeen and pictured a life unleashed — no commitments.  I copied all my record albums onto small and portable cassette tapes (dinosaur alert!) and prepared for the unencumbered life.  With that resolve in my rear view mirror, no one is more surprised than I am to have lived (happily) at the same address for 23 years, making a home and being re-made by the challenges and joys of home.

In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel examines her own history of home and the continual need to cherish change which her life circumstances have fostered.  She ponders the beauty of place, emphasizing that Scripture is “a home story” and that the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings.

History and literature attest to humanity’s desire for rootedness, and even the biblical narrative opens in a garden paradise and ends with the permanence, rest, and refuge of The New Jerusalem.  The journey from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wandering, of nostalgia for a settled place . . . until God enters history at a particular time in a particular place so that He could “seek and save the lost.”

“According to Scripture, home is shared human work.”

Church leaders, then, become the managers of God’s household.  Both male and female parents are given a role in the hard work of child rearing.  Routine chores become an offering and a valued means to the greater end of fostering a sense of security and belonging.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  He finds lost things, He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places, He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party.  Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.

Homemaking is a work of welcoming and provision.

Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.

“Stability” is a term that occurs early and often in Keeping Place.  Presenting as a spiritual discipline and as an opposite to rootlessness, it signifies a commitment to make a difference in a specific place and time.  The paradox of the Christian life is this need for full investment, wherever we are, whatever our calling — in stark contrast to the need to also hold it all loosely.

“There is no controlling what we keep or for how long, and an earthly home is no measure of stability and safety, not really — not when lurking in the background of every day is the possibility that the phone will ring and life will lurch toward death.”

To be human is to long for home.
To be mortal is to be plagued by the impermanence of all that we hold dear.

The truth of resurrection, expressed in the language of Home,  is that all the perished things will one day be restored, our need for belonging will be fulfilled at long last, and, in the meantime, the Word of God speaks truth into all of our longings and our losses, into all of our dreams of Home.

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This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jen goes on to explore in more depth the shared labor of housekeeping and the truth that God’s welcome inspires our work.  Next Tuesday, I will be reviewing Part II of Keeping Place — The Work of Home.  I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that I’m going to linger in this place for another week.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

Photo credit:  Gina Butz

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

Women in Ministry: What God Wants You to Know

We were greeted with warm handshakes and pleasantries, an outline of the morning service, and then a startling announcement:  “We assumed that your wife would want to take the children.”  In the early days of our marriage when my husband was the area director of a children’s ministry, I used to travel with him to his weekend engagements.  However, in those days, I had a full-time job, no children yet, and no — I did not carry a Bible lesson around in my back pocket. (Given the same situation today?  I’d probably go for it!  Why not?)

Ministry wives are often subject to assumptions and misconceptions, and it is with this audience in mind that Kay Warren has written Sacred Privilege.  However, her words are relevant to all women in ministry, with or without husbands.  She writes from the perspective of a life-long “church girl,” the daughter of a pastor, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Purpose Driven Life fame, and also as the mother to a pastor’s wife.  The book is a distillation of wisdom gained from an entire life lived in the fish bowl of ministry — not from the viewpoint of “perfect wife,” but as messenger and strong survivor, as one who has taken strength from God for a very specific calling and now wants to pass that encouragement on to others who share that call.

If you are a woman in ministry, here’s what God wants you to know:

1.  “You need to embrace your own story — all of it — for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.” (31)

Kay’s story includes a brush with a porn addiction and a rocky start to her marriage.  It includes a struggle with depression and the mental illness and ultimate suicide of her son. She assesses this terrain and concludes that the life she has lived is the exact price required for becoming who she is today.

2.  “There is no greater heritage than for children to see that ministry is not just for dads but also for moms and brothers and sisters.”  (50)

Sharing a ministry focus as a couple and also as a family protects everyone from resentment and eases the claustrophobia of the glass house that can plague ministry families.  Kay defines “thriving” over the long haul  as the ability to share a God-given dream and points to Ephesians 2:10 to affirm that God is the architect of that dream.

3.  “Success in ministry is not about numerical results or recognition but about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong in one’s calling and in one’s character.” (58)

This does not mean that women in ministry will meet everyone’s expectations.  On the flip side, it also does not mean that we will always be free to do the thing we love the most.  When it comes to defining success in ministry, the most important voice in the room is God’s.

4.  “You have a story that is worth telling.”  (125)

Sharing God’s redemption process in your life is risky because your weaknesses come out of hiding.  However, in the process, others are drawn into the Light, and true friendships can be formed that will endure for the long haul.  Life in community — knowing others and being known — is so much safer and more comfortable than life on a pedestal.

5.  “No one will take care of you but you.” (139)

That sounds cynical, doesn’t it?  And it’s not to say that God, your husband, and/or your loving church family are all out to exploit you and suck you dry, but there are some aspects of self-care that are completely in your court:  eating, sleeping, and moving every day are your responsibility.  My favorite of Kay’s aphorisms applies here:

“Control the controllable and leave the uncontrollable to God.”

Nourishing the inner life and stepping away from ministry for Sabbath rest may require some adjusting.  Cultivating this flexibility is a discipline that is well worth it in the end.

6.  “Accept the loss of privacy with God’s grace.”  (180)

Gail MacDonald and Edith Schaeffer have blazed a gracious trail for ministry wives (and all women) with their writing, and Edith is eloquently accurate on this subject of boundaries:

“A family is a door that has hinges and a lock.  The hinges should be well-oiled to swing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family.”  (183)

7.  “Live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.”  (194)

Because ministry is a “sacred privilege,” God-honoring integrity is key, particularly in the crucial areas of sex, money, and power.  Kay and her husband maintain a “warnings” file with details about well-known pastors who have left the ministry because of moral failure — just to remind them of their own vulnerability.

8.  Maintain an eternal perspective.

Practicing radical forgiveness will make the battle scars earned in church conflict more bearable — and will even speed healing!  Franςois Fénelon offers wise counsel:

“Don’t be so upset when things are said about you.  Let the world talk; just seek to do the will of God.  You will never be able to entirely satisfy people and it isn’t worth the painful effort.”  (215)

The shared dreams and plans, the sacrifices and the adjustments required of women in ministry can be viewed alongside Paul’s metaphor of the Christian life as a race.  We run toward a finish line that is difficult to see, and the noise of the crowd — whether cheering or jeering — can be a distraction.  Making it “our aim to please” God is the mindset that will foster self-acceptance, a thriving family, and the ability to live out God’s calling on our lives with integrity and joy.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Kay’s writing and ministry check out her website here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.