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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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.

Photo by Kirill Pershin on Unsplash

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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.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Self-Discipline: A Wholehearted Yes to the Call of God

Child #1:  “But I don’t want to do my spelling lesson.”

Child #2:  “I really don’t feel like cleaning my room.”

Parent:  “I’m not asking you to want to. I don’t expect you to feel like it. I’m asking you to do it anyway.”

There was a season in which conversations like this were standard practice in our home. With a focus on quotidian matters of chores and school work, they seem, at first glance anyway, to be inconsequential. However, the performance of small needful duties without procrastination or complaint is a sign post which, if followed to its destination, carries the promise of a more disciplined life in the future. St. John of the Cross expressed it well:

“Do not wait for desire before performing a virtuous deed, since reason and understanding are sufficient.” (134)

Elisabeth Elliot was uniquely qualified to write on the topic of self-discipline, for she brought to it her unique brand of no-nonsense wisdom, a product of having already “set her face like a flint” in this following life. A right understanding of discipline requires a right understanding of the God we follow, for training in self-discipline requires a “wholehearted yes to the call of God.” (16)

In her recently re-released Joyful Surrender, Elliot creates a linguistic mosaic featuring the words dependence, responsibility, and obedience to fine tune her readers’ thinking. Her strong gospel underpinnings keep her thoughts from a purely bootstraps mentality, for she understood that “discipline is not my claim on Christ, but the evidence of His claim on me.” (28)

7 Disciplines for the Believer’s Life

We embody self-discipline here on the ground by the miracle of grace, according to the guidelines of Scripture, and through the inspiration and enabling of the Spirit of God. What we bring to this equation is our own will–as an offering to God. (37) Our cooperation with God in a life of self-discipline shows up on seven fronts, and Elisabeth has devoted one chapter to each in a devastatingly convicting and yet hopeful celebration of joyful surrender.

  • First, discipline of the body is basic and essential, and it’s amazing how Christians fall into Gnosticism when we’re confronted with the need to wrestle our habits into submission to the will of God.
  • Rhythms of fasting and resting impact on the body as well as the mindand the Christian life is a continual journey of being “re-minded”–corrected  and pulled away from error by the Spirit who aids us in “thinking Christ.” (64)
  • In her discussion of the disciplines of place and time, Elliot’s focus is on the authority of God in our lives to call the shots, while the main question in the discipline of possessions is:  Are we willing to accept what God gives and to relinquish our grip on what he chooses to withhold?
  • The discipline of work views every task as a gift to be offered back to God, no matter how big or small, and our feelings, likewise, are to be recognized, named, and then laid open before the Lord for his training. (145)

Discipline is fundamental in the life of a disciple, and it finds its expression in our lives as we give up our “right” to my-way-my-time-my-stuff-my-preferences. Living in Joyful Surrender, we find that our obedience to Christ is met with gifts that far surpass the value of anything we will ever relinquish to Him.


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 for grace in the glad surrender,

Michele (1)


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 linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Joyful Surrender, 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.

Photo by krystina rogers on Unsplash

Subscribe to Living Our Days 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.

The Secret to Contentment in a Discontented World

Secrets have a way of grabbing our attention, particularly if the secret comes with a promise of something good. If I claimed to know the secret location of a buried treasure or to possess the secret for permanent and effortless weight loss, the world would beat a path to my door.

Paul claimed to know a secret of even greater value:

“In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content . . .”
(Philippians 4:12 CSB)

In 1643, Jeremiah Burroughs unearthed Paul’s secret in great detail in The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment. Pastor and author Andrew M. Davis revisits the classic work, providing updated illustrations and a fresh look at Burrough’s wise counsel:

“To be well schooled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian.” (40)

The Power of Christian Contentment begins by documenting Paul’s credentials for his claim, reminding readers that, while Paul tested the limits of extreme discipleship, contentment was not something he was born with or that came to him on the Damascus Road.

A Secret to Be Learned

Christian contentment is a secret to be learned. When Paul wrote about contentment, he used a Greek word whose simplest translation is “self-sufficient.” He wanted to communicate his freedom from dependence on any created thing, and this is crucial because, while believers are not invited to share God’s incommunicable attribute of self-existence, there is a sense in which, at least spiritually, our contentment in Christ is a dim shadow of God’s self-existence (or “aseity”).

As usual, C.S. Lewis says it succinctly and distinctly:

“He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God alone.” (33)

Contentment Defined

If contentment is a secret to be learned, it is important to define what Paul meant. Davis unpacks Burroughs’s very thorough description:

“Christian contentment is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” (40)

It is imperative to note that contentment does NOT excuse complacency, nor does it mean putting up with injustice or passively accepting circumstances that should be changed and set to rights. Paul set the example by speaking out against injustice and held the magistrate’s officers’ feet to the fire when he and Silas were mistreated in Philippi.

What is the Secret?

Fortunately, Paul was not stingy with his secret, for he was quick to reveal his Source of contentment:

“I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

Contentment comes from valuing Christ above all other possessions and relationships, above all other sources of strength and encouragement. It is a supernatural weapon in the trusting believer’s arsenal. Since God has commanded us to be content, he has also provided the means.

The Miracle of Subtraction

When I read Burroughs’s work several years ago, this wisdom stuck like a burr:

“Contentment comes, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”

Rather than adding to our possessions in hope that the pile will one day satisfy, biblical contentment carves down our desires until they “equal what our loving heavenly Father chooses to provide.” (70) This, to me, seems to be the most difficult and yet most indispensable understanding of what it means to delight in the Lord without making an idol of his gifts.

Finding contentment in prosperity can be as challenging as finding contentment in suffering, and there is never a season of life in which we’re not tempted to complain–and then to make excuses for it. Davis offers boots-on-the-ground advice for combating a spirit of entitlement which includes:

  • studying the lives of biblical and historical figures who persevered with a spirit of contentment;
  • learning about the persecuted church;
  • becoming sacrificially involved in missions;
  • fasting periodically from comforts that have become idols;
  • getting involved in volunteer activities that are hidden and thankless;
  • giving freely and extravagantly from your wealth;
  • praying fervently for  growth in contentment and setting the example for your family;
  • reading deeply and widely from resources about seeking pleasure in God alone;
  • practicing vigilance in your entertainment and social media exposure.

Discontentment is an insidious evil, easy to overlook and hard to uproot. A mindset that views every single circumstance as a gift from God’s good hand is a frame of mind and heart that requires supernatural help and continual vigilance.  By grace, growth in Christian contentment will lead to a deeper fulfillment in the following life and a richer experience of gospel truth.

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.

Because “godliness with contentment is great gain,”

 


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 The Power of Christian Contentment, or  The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment simply click on the title here or within the text, 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.

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.

Photo by thr3 eyes on Unsplash

Avoid These 4 Obstacles to Seeing the Color of Life

In rural Maine, conversations around race seem remote, theoretical, and (frankly) like somebody else’s business. Colorblindness is nigh unto snow-blindness here:  whiteness all around and a certain sightless condition that follows hard after it. Raising sons in the 90’s with a narrative of color blindness involved earnest conversations on the way to Portland or Boston, thankful for the opportunity and mindful of the privilege.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m invited into a completely different way of seeing the world in which we take note of the colorful array that God created. The challenge, then, is to exchange the privilege of not noticing race for the greater privilege of taking note.

Cara Meredith is one of the voices I have listened for as she navigates her own way toward seeing color and blazes trail with her words. A white woman married to a black man, Cara is raising two mixed-race sons, and she shares this emergence from her own white bubble in The Color of Life: A Journey toward Love and Racial Justice. She has one eye on the future for her two children and the other cast back into history which has been shaped toward justice by the influence of her father-in-law, James Meredith, the first black man to graduate from the University of Mississippi in the early 60’s.

Navigating the Obstacles

Navigating a collision of cultures takes courage and the way is often unclear. Walking a “road paved with apologies and lessons yet to learn,” (209) Cara’s memoir calls readers to hear the “tramp, tramp, tramping of feet” toward justice, and she points out the narrow places and perilous potholes in the road:

  1. Fear — The unknown — the risk of stepping onto unfamiliar ground — is enough to keep all of us in our safe corners. The power of love calls us to a brave knowing and a new awareness of the stories of others. Will we overcome fear and pray along with Cara?

“Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear the pain and the hurt around me.” (68)

2. Differences — The Merediths found that their differences required an awareness of their lenses of racial understanding. Rather than chalking them up to temperament or gender, Cara made the brave choice to lean into James’s unique pain as part of her healthy partnership in their interracial marriage.

3.  Swooping — Cara’s ministry to youth extended the love of God across boundaries of race, but it became clear to her that this had nothing to do with “swooping in to save a brown girl’s experiences of racism and hate.” Opening her ears, she began to listen in a new way to evidences of the real and material effects of race.

4.  Ignorance — Like many readers, I smiled at Cara’s edgy description of James as her Hot Black Husband (HBH!). I thought the “little caramels” was a cute designation for her sons. Only after hearing the real names of black and brown victims of racial injustice did Cara realize that her nicknames robbed her family members of their dignity.

So she apologized.
She admitted that her good intentions had been cancelled by a lack of understanding.
Confessing our ignorance may be the first step toward awareness.

Beginning to Notice

As we make room for paradox and uncertainty and live our way into a new and clear-eyed knowing, we will find a fresh way of seeing the world--with all its many colors.“According to one study, out of about 3,400 books analyzed, people of color accounted for only 22 percent of children’s book characters.” (152) This statistic became reality on Cara’s own bookshelf, and noticing led her to action. She wanted her boys to see illustrations that included faces like their own, strong protagonists who reassured them that theirs was also an active role in their own stories.

For all of us, noticing may require some homework to chisel away the granite of our solid “knowing”. As we make room for paradox and uncertainty and live our way into a new and clear-eyed knowing, we will find a fresh way of seeing the world–with all its many colors.


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

michele signature[1]


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 linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Color of Life: A Journey toward Love and Racial Justice,  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.

Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

Subscribe to Living Our Days 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.

The Gift of Wonder and God’s Glorious “And”

Wild extremes live on the bandwidth that comprises Christian faith. At one end of the scale are those who believe scarcely a thing at all, but even this is not as frightening to me as those on the end of the spectrum who have God all figured out. With algebraic precision, they are able to reduce God to his component parts. Their certainty factors out mystery and puts unyielding parentheses around an orthodoxy with no room for questions–and no surprises.

In Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or WorldJen Pollock Michel asserts that biblical faith “abides complexity rather than resists it.” (4) She wonders aloud about doubt and certainty, humility and hope, and then settles into the examination of four themes in Scripture in which paradox abounds:

1.  Incarnation:  God and Man

Nowhere is God’s delight in both/and over either/or more apparent than in the truth that the incarnate Christ was fully God AND fully man. This is a mystery that defies logic, and it invites believers to delight in our own duality. We are intensely physical beings with appetites and space/time limitations that anchor us in the quotidian and the earthy. And yet, our spirits commune with The Spirit, our souls will live forever, and we have been created in the image of an unseen God who is wholly spirit.

The incarnation brings unity to the spiritual and the material, the secular and the sacred, and we find, to our great surprise that “in Jesus Christ, we are more unimpressive than we ever dared admit, more glorious than we ever dared dream.” (57)

2.  Kingdom:  Plain Truth and Mystery

Jesus wasted no time in announcing that he represented another kingdom, far removed from the Roman Empire or the religious hierarchy of Judaism. Reading his story with the Kingdom of God in mind uncovers “the scope of God’s ambitions. He wills to reign. And he will reign over more than human hearts.” (71)

However, it is clear that the righting of our upside down world which began with Christ’s resurrection is not readily apparent and often seems completely missing in a world so larded through with suffering and injustice. In the meantime, those with little find their places alongside those blessed with much, and we all trust for grace to do life with those who don’t look like us, who vote in ways we find scandalous–and who are positively indispensable in our process of learning to set our hope fully in Jesus alone.

3.  Grace:  Rest and Response

If God had bones, grace would be in his deepest marrow. This is good news, for how else would any of us find our way into relationship with the Most Holy?

The paradox of grace lies in God’s requirement for obedience and his rejection of legalism; the gift of hard words delivered with love; and the invitation to rest while carrying his yoke. The reality of grace means  spiritual disciplines that look like work and feel like deprivation are the very thing that clear the channels for grace to flow freely into our lives.

4.  Lament:  Howling Prayer and Confessing Faith

North American Christians with our lives of relative ease rely heavily upon inspired words for our language of lament. There we find faithful Jeremiah pausing dead center in Lamentations to gulp air, declare God’s faithfulness, and then resume his tearful mourning over lost Jerusalem. Habakkuk and Job sing testy songs of impatience with God’s slow mercy, and psalms of lament read like “nasty letters to the editor.” (155)

Ironically, it is only those whom we trust and value who will receive the brunt of our anguish, disappointment, or rage. We affirm belief in a God who is there by railing at him when he feels absent. Our forays into lament keep sorrow from unraveling into despair.

God’s promise of And in this Either/Or World means that “just because it can’t be explained doesn’t make it false.” (24) The dissonance we feel when we bump into God’s inscrutable ways is an invitation to worship and to find, buried within the struggle to understand, the gift of wonder.

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

Always in awe of the paradoxical ways of God,

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Keeping Place by Jen Pollock MichelI’ve been following Jen Pollock Michel’s work for quite some time, so I was thrilled to review her 2017 release:  Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home.  It was so insightful I devoted two posts to my review, the first dealing with thoughts around a “theology of home,” and the second focused more on the steady thrum of activity that holds a home together.

 

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. If you should decide to purchase Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World or Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home 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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