Musings — April 2017

Returning from a family vacation (and a blogging break!), it’s great to be rested and to have stored up some delightful memories with my patient husband, our two youngest sons, and with dear friends who love us so much and so well that they even welcomed our big slobbery dog!

Did you know that the roller coaster was invented by the French in 1817? Two hundred years later, our guys enjoyed this “history lesson.”

 

Obviously, the cool people are sitting on each end.

On the Nightstand

Not because I deserve it, but because God is gracious, I have a friend who has stuck with me through a dozen or more years of reading Scripture together.  Even though we are geographically far apart, we read the same passage each day and hold one another accountable to the practice of showing up in the presence of the Word.  Our plan for the foreseeable future is to read through the book of Jeremiah, using Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses as our road map.

“Before I shaped you in the womb,
    I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
    I had holy plans for you:
A prophet to the nations—
that’s what I had in mind for you.”

Jeremiah 1:5  (MSG)

Already, the first chapter is breathtaking with its reminder that we are known before we know, that we have been enlisted by God before we were even qualified for anything.  Then, since “giving is the style of the universe,” we have been given to our families, our friends, our neighbors — and to our enemies.

“Our life is for others. . .  We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.  But the sooner we start the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping grace of life.”

This was true of Jeremiah, and it is certainly true of believers in 2017.

On the Blog

In April I shared my first offering as a contributor to God-sized Dreams, an on-line community where you can say your dream out loud and find the glorious encouragement of others who are also familiar with the joys and pitfalls inherent to dreaming.   When fear threatens to extract all the air from my dreams, I’m thankful for the courage and strength that come from an upholding God.  You can read more here about letting your fear drive you to the One who casts out all fear.

Ruby Magazine included a couple of my book reviews in their April edition.  I always enjoy sharing children’s books, and, of course, the best part is test-driving the books with the adorable grandson.

The most viewed post in April was my review of Gary Thomas’s book, Cherish:  The One Word that Changes Everything for Your Marriage.  Gary encourages his readers to go beyond merely loving our spouses and to live our way into “a marriage that feels more precious, more connected, and more satisfying.”

Just for Joy

What is it about fiction and the imagined words and experiences of well-developed characters that can leave the heart aching with the beauty of truth?

In The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, Toby leaves his wife Lou and moves to Maine with Deary.  Twenty years pass, and with Deary in the process of dying, Toby falls, breaking both arms.  He returns to Lou and asks her to care for them both.

Spoiler alert:  She says yes.
All incredulity aside, this excerpt from Lou’s processing of the decision stopped me in my tracks:

“At this age, forgiveness could be child’s play if you know the ropes.”

Is this “knowing the ropes” another word for grace?
Am I better at forgiving now than I was twenty years ago?

What are you working on these days?
Are you seeing evidence of God’s knowing, choosing, and launching you into His agenda?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and am thankful for your eyes in this place at the end of another month.
Blessings and love to you.

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Hearing the Stories Anew

Capture

It is a trick of human nature that if we walk by the sock under the coffee table enough times, it will eventually disappear.  We will have stopped seeing it.  This is unfortunate for pristine housekeeping practices, and even more so when we’re reading the Bible. It’s tragic when we’ve heard the stories so many times that we’ve simply stopped hearing them.  The phrases slip by unheeded:

“. . . without form and void
. . . and God saw that it was good
. . . two by two
. . . and the waters prevailed exceedingly.”

Maybe it’s time to slow the stories down for the sake of our hearts; for the love of foundational truth that puts the creativity of God and His limitless grace on display; for the joy of seeing it all new through the eyes of a small person in our lap or beside us in the comfy chair.

In the Beginning and Noah’s Ark, part of the Baby Bible Book Series crafted by Susana and Owen Gay, have streamlined Creation and Flood narratives down to the essential points and the actions of God which reveal His character.  Colorful drawings are simple enough to invite tiny fingers to point to favorite animals and to count the stars on a page, but include sufficient detail for the little smarty pants to show off the fact that they know all the colors of the rainbow and the sound the monkey makes.

Parents, grandparents, and teachers of even the youngest toddlers can begin to establish a foundation for their tiny Bible scholars and, at the same time, find their own hearts rejoicing in the truth.

God created.
His work is good.
God rescues.
He keeps His promises.

When we participate in the spiritual formation of the small people in our lives, we may find — to our own great surprise — that we also are formed anew.

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These books were provided by Worthy Kids/Ideals, an imprint of Worthy 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.”

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.

Visiting Over the Garden Fence

Here on this country hill, I see my neighbors from a distance.  The stillness and solitude are a bonus, but there are times when I think it would be nice to look up from my weeding and see a friendly face over the garden fence, to compare notes on ripening tomatoes and Japanese beetles, and to share encouraging stories that come from living close to the ground.

Today, I’m leaning over the garden fence — in a virtual way — with my friend, Sarah Geringer.  She’s a writer and a blogger who is gathering a community of gardeners at her place this month, and she has asked me three questions about my life in the bean patch:

  1.  What is your favorite kind of gardening (flower, vegetable, container, etc.) and why?

  2. What spiritual lessons has God taught you through gardening?

  3. In this year’s gardening season, what challenges do you face and how do they correlate with your faith?

Capture

Grab your gardening gloves and hunker down with us over at Sarah’s place as we ponder a new season of seed planting and hope —  and as we marvel at the ordinary miracle of new life that happens when we’re Meeting God in the Garden.

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I’ve reviewed Sarah’s book, Newness of Life here at Living Our Days, and you’ll also want to check out her blog as she continues to interview other gardeners as part of her series.

May you find that you also meet God in the garden as you enjoy spring beauty and follow the path of joy back to a loving and all-wise Creator.

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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.

Love and Truth Made Visible

Saying “I do” at any age carries a freight of challenges and adjustments along with the joy, but a 57-year-old newlywed, married for the first time, brings a unique perspective to marriage.  Using the parable of her wedding preparations, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth begins Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together with a challenge to adorn the truth of the Gospel in our manner of living so that the beauty of God is put on display.  Since this is best accomplished in the context of relationship, Nancy turns to the truth of Titus 2: 1-10 with its wise and wonderful game plan:   the sound doctrine and skillful living that are indispensable to godliness are best learned “woman to woman, older to younger, day to day, life to life.”

Women of all ages and stages of life stand to benefit when they dive into Scriptural truth and find that belief affects behavior, for the truth is that the kindness and self-control called for in Titus 2 flow out of a changed life.  The sound doctrine Paul writes about in verse 1 is the mooring for good choices that result in the purity, composure, and sound relationships that characterize “Titus 2 Christians,” both male and female.  In the process, our ultimate purpose — to make much of God — is fulfilled and the beauty of Christ is put on display.

Older women are uniquely equipped and qualified to take younger women by the hand and explore the riches of a reverent life.  The energy and enthusiasm of younger women motivates older women to live into their calling and their experience in practical ways.

“To be reverent means living with the constant, conscious awareness that we are in the presence of an awesome, holy God.”

A Woman Under Control

Appearance, attitude, and life style work together to model the fruit of a genuine relationship with God.  A life characterized by freedom from harmful speech and from the many forms of slavery (to food, exercise, shopping, television, work, prescription meds, to name just a few possible masters) demonstrates the overcoming power of the Spirit of God.  The outcome is what Nancy refers to as a “Sophron State of Mind” (pronounced so-phrone).  Derived from the Greek words soos, meaning “sound” and phren, meaning “mind,” it comes together to convey self-control, discretion, or good sense.  Looking at life through my sophron lens, I am encouraged to ask myself probing questions:

  • The way just I talked to that person — was it sophron?
  • The way I ate (or exercised — or not?), or managed my time today — was it sophron?

Statistics that caught me by surprise here in my church-lady bubble indicate that 1 in 6 women regularly view pornography and 80% will eventually follow up virtual activity with face-to-face encounters.  In a culture that fosters the exact opposite, purity and discretion require vigilance and accountability.

A Woman Under Her Roof

It goes without saying that it is so much easier to be pleasant and accommodating with people on the fringes of our lives.  It’s those who are closest to us that receive (and endure) the fruit of our true character.  Titus 2 calls women to genuine relationships and a love for home that puts those all-important relationships on the front burner.  Together, we can train our hearts to cherish our husbands and to embrace the gift of  motherhood.  Anticipating objections to the counter-cultural notion of biblical submission, Nancy defines it by what it is NOT:

“1.  A wife’s submission is not to men in general.
2.  Submission does not mean a wife is inferior to her husband.
3.  Submission doesn’t subject a wife to a life of forced compliance.
4.  Submission doesn’t amount to slavish, groveling subservience.
5.  Submission doesn’t minimize a wife into mindlessness.
6.  Submission doesn’t mean husbands are always right.
7.  Submission never requires a wife to follow her husband into sin.
8.  Finally, a wife’s submission never gives license to her husband to abuse her.”

Studying I Peter 3 on submission with my Sunday School class, I read huge swaths of this chapter out loud to my class simply because it is so clear and grace-oriented.

Because everyone is on a learning curve, it is clear that older women will teach from what they have already learned, but we will also teach out of our failures, pointing to the days (or years) that “the locust has eaten” as proof that God is graciously in the business of redeeming failure and loss.  Younger women play a necessary role in the adorning of the Gospel, for they bring energy and fresh perspective to the table, motivating older women to live up to their knowledge — and always mindful that everyone can be an “older woman” to someone.

Titus 2 calls believers to a life of practicing a costly kindness.
It lays the groundwork for partnership together in Truth that makes the love of God visible and the truth of the Gospel believable because it is being communicated by lives that are becoming more beautiful with every year.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers 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 Adorned, about the Revive Our Hearts Adorned event, or to join a Facebook discussion group based on the book, visit the Adorned website.

Last year I read and reviewed Nancy’s wake up call to women, True Woman 101:  Divine Design.  You can read more 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.

 

Old and New Testaments: One Great Story

Shrouded in mystery, the ways of God are stitched into stories, carried on the smoke of a burning sacrifice, and sung from the heart with both joy and tears. Through promises and prophecies, God hints at a plan that will reel in rebellion and undo death and loss — until the silence of four hundred years falls like a veil between heaven and earth.  Open to the page that falls between the Testaments and ponder long, for the Old prefigures the New, and the New reveals the Old in a way that could only be true if their message and their Object were one.

Nancy Guthrie traces the point and counterpoint between the Old and New Testaments with sixty devotional readings, each one demonstrating the Old Testament origin of a single concept and then following the dotted line of Truth directly to Christ.  In Seeing Jesus:  Seeking and Finding Him in the Scriptures, the reader lifts off in Genesis with its plural pronouns attached to a Creator God; touches down in John’s Gospel for the unmasking of the Living Word; and then arrives at the stunning conclusion (aided by the Apostle Paul) that Origin and Object are one, for everything that the Living Word spoke into being is shot through with the ultimate purpose of glorifying God. (1-4)

Filling All Things Everywhere

It should be no surprise, then, to find the psalmist’s certainty that God would fill the hungry is echoing anew in the Gospel writers’ assurance that God the Son would fill the wine casks and the fish nets, and then, again, in the Apostle’s confidence that He would “fill all things everywhere,”  and that, one day, Jesus will fill and complete His Body, the church, filling the entire universe with Himself. (153-156)

Each reading traces the actions of God  — at work to show Himself powerful through his protection of and provision for a tiny nation state — and then follows the narrative arc into a larger story that becomes massively redemptive and globally significant. Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ only to ricochet off the hard-packed streets of first-century Jerusalem and land in the Revelation with a majestic white horse ridden by a Messiah-King in an unshakable Kingdom where He is both Temple and Lamb.

Until we have seen Jesus in both the Old and the New Testaments . . . I wonder.

Have we really seen Him at all?

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This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, 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.

The Light of Resurrection

Waiting for spring, hanging off the northeast end of the U.S. mainland, it’s a challenge to get into an Easter frame of mind. The dark is still holding sway over the light, and resurrection-thinking requires a muscular faith. Although the calendar tells me that spring will come, this hope in a future date can seem like a flimsy thing.    

Pressing into a Truth that challenges me to fathom the unfathomable, I leave my heart ajar to the record of resurrection in John’s Gospel. After all, Mary Magdalene had nothing but Sunday morning silhouettes to go on when she visited the tomb.

But this one thing she knew:  stones don’t move themselves. 

The absence of death, the presence of angels, and the sound of her own name carried by the voice of Jesus opened Mary’s eyes to Life, and, reading it again today, my heart is blown wide open to the reality that there is a God at work Who is beyond my understanding.

The power that raised Christ from the dead spreads a layer of clear abundance across the sky, and it rebukes all my tattered scripts of scarcity and inadequacy.  Under the light of resurrection, the myth of “not enough” that presents itself as gospel is revealed for what it is – blasphemy, after all.

When I stand before a class or sit around a table with my weekly women and feel like handing off my notes to someone else and saying:
“Here, you do this. It’s too much. I’m not enough,”
I slam my heart shut like a tomb full of death.

When I reject wisdom that whispers:
“Wait; lean into relationship with Me and stop your ceaseless striving;
When, instead, I soldier on by the seat of my pants–I choose darkness over light; death instead of resurrection.

My faithless frame of mind locks me into a small room … and then sucks out all the oxygen.

This was not unlike the post-resurrection dwelling place that the disciple Thomas had created for himself. He’d been given a whole week in which to savor the bitter brew of hopelessness and disappointment, to hear about Jesus’ appearances to others—always when Thomas was conveniently absent. He had cobbled together his own response, apparently deciding that He was not going to be taken in by all the hype. He would not be deceived by any false messiahs who go and get themselves killed in the most humiliating manner possible.

Locked door and double-bolted heart notwithstanding, Jesus showed up with a fresh supply of oxygen and irrefutable evidence—the marks of crucifixion and his own unique wound, a spear-thrust through the ribs.

Thomas’s skepticism melted into adoration and an astounding confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Mary’s eyes had been opened by the sound of her Savior’s voice.
For Thomas, it was the sight of His wounds that spoke resurrection.

Millions of us now, following in hundreds of generations behind Mary and Thomas, have never been invited to put our hands on the risen Christ or been treated to the sound of His voice speaking our name aloud, and yet the reality of resurrection and the power of Life over death is so much a part of our creed that we hold it as a mark of orthodoxy. God does not require an empty “faith in faith,” but offers reality, transparent vindication in the form of eye-witness accounts upon which I base my own belief.

“Jesus of the Scars” is Edward Shillito’s poetic invitation for me to join Thomas in bearing witness:

“The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds, only God’s wounds speak,
And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.”

When, through Thomas’s eyes, I see a wounded God, I am brave to come, wounded, to Him, for if it were not for those visible wounds all would be winter.
The stone would still seal in the stench of death;
the door to the upper room would stay forever locked;
there would be no framing of the heart to resurrection truth.

Like Mary, though, I am seen and known.
I hear the sound of His voice through His Word:
a whispered hope,
a release from shame,
a path away from the downward draw of brokenness,
a promise of eternal spring.

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Today, my family and I are beginning spring vacation (Hooray!) For a few days, things will be quiet here on the blog while we re-connect, relax, and make memories together.  May you also find joy in your celebration of resurrection life and the Savior who lives. 

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box 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 enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

 

 

Culture Care: Filling Up the Longing for Beauty

Our first summer living on this country hill, the budget was tight and luxuries were few.  I had planted a garden that seemed huge to me at the time, and a friend, intending to surprise me, weeded the entire plot as a generous gift from the heart.  How could she have known that those random shoots between the green beans would have become marigolds or that the tomato plants had been interspersed with a potential forest of sunflowers?  Reading Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura explained for me the long ago disappointment and the deep sense of loss that clouded my gratitude to that well-meaning friend:  those flower seeds had been planted just for joy.  To me, they had represented hope and beauty in a world that ran almost exclusively toward practicality.

Our common lives become far too common when we fail to carve out a space for beauty.  Makoto argues effectively that when we starve our souls in pursuit of our “living,” we lose sight of our own nature as creative beings, made in the image of a Creator God who calls us to lives of fruitfulness and beauty.  Working from insights gained in his calling as an artist, the author invites his readers into the generative life, which is “fruitful, originat[es] new life, [and] . . . draws on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life giving.”  Throughout the book, he lays out numerous principles that define the generative approach to life on this planet:

  1.  First, a genesis moment grabs the attention and renews a conviction, challenging us to make decisions in keeping with creativity and growth.  Just as failure and disappointment entered the narrative arc of the biblical Genesis, it may also play a key role in our own personal genesis moments.
  2. Generosity is the fuel that drives generative thinking.  A mindset of scarcity squelches creativity and leads to small, cramped living.
  3. The knowledge that all believers are stewards of culture leads us to create a welcoming climate for creativity and to care for the contributions of others so that future generations can thrive.
  4. Art is a gift – not a commodity.  In his work with the International Arts Movement, Fujimura works to contribute to this type of reimagining, inviting others into the new paradigm that culture is “not a territory to win, but a garden to tend to, an ecosystem to steward.”
  5. There is value to work that is done in secret for the pleasure and development of the artist — even if no one else ever sees or appreciates it.

Artists fulfill the crucial role of “border-stalkers,” living on the edges of various groups – sometimes in the space between – and carrying news back to the tribe.  Like bees who pollinate far and wide, those who assume cultural leadership ensure flourishing.  Christ, of course, was the ultimate Border-Stalker, creating in love, sidling up against all the borders with a light that would not be extinguished.  When we narrow our categories (and our eyes) at artists who are Christian but who refuse to reduce Christ to a mere adjective, we diminish the mystery of Christ in our attempts to keep the Spirit inside our boundaries and away from the margins where border-stalkers are most needed.

As a mum who has spent that past decade or more schlepping children to piano lessons, play practices, and band rehearsals, I nearly stood on my chair as I read Makoto’s thoughts on the deeply necessary role that art education plays in the development of people who are “fully human.”

“Dana Gioia has rightly said that we ‘do not provide arts education to create more artists, though that is a byproduct.  The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.”  We provide arts education so that we can have better teachers, doctors, engineers, mothers, and fathers.  Arts are not a luxury but a path to educate the whole individual toward thriving.  They are needed simply because a civilization cannot be a civilization without the arts.”

Culture Care employs multiple metaphors to convey the connection between generative practice in everyday life and the enhancement and preservation of culture.  Is a cultural greenhouse what we should strive for, or is that too sheltered?  Would a garden concept with wise planning and limited scope be more likely to foster work that is both sustainable and generative?   An estuary with its diverse and abundant ecosystems conjures images of some artists functioning as the “oysters,” rooted and filtering their surroundings, improving the environment for all; others are are more like salmon, following a pattern of life-giving migration and, perhaps, leaving the estuary for good at some point.

Makoto veers from principles to practicality by sharing his own story of inviting his supporters to invest in his career rather than merely purchasing his art.  He does not use his considerable skills with a brush to paint an unrealistically positive view of the calling to serve ones gift, but, instead, introduces a gritty path to success that he calls “rehumanized capitalism.”  In order to start a movement or survive as an artist, three types of capital are necessary:

  • Creative capital — The artist with talent and skill
  • Social capital — An influencer such as a church leader or community organizer
  • Material capital — An individual with means or access to supportive business contacts

Wouldn’t it be lovely if, once again, the church could become an environment in which partnerships such as this could thrive?  Tim Keller, former pastor from New York City, laments the tragedy that “the church is no longer where the masses come to know the Creator of beauty.”  We are called to a life of nurturing and rejuvenating creativity, a work of cultivation which requires new eyes enlightened by a new heart.  If it is our desire to make caring for souls a way of life, Makoto Fujimura offers an outline for life-giving practices that will enable us to honor God and embody the gospel while, at the same time, cultivating the creativity that is at the heart of what it means to be fully human.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of 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.”

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.