Biddy Chambers: A Sacramental Life

Published in 1927, My Utmost for His Highest has sold more than 13 million copies and has never been out of print. Over the course of its 90+ year history, it has been translated into 40 different languages, and Oswald Chambers’s unique and timeless wisdom is quoted far and wide.

However, until recently, little thought has been given to the fact that My Utmost was not published until ten years after Chambers’s death, and that it was his wife, Gertrude “Biddy” Hobbs Chambers who took on the mammoth task of compiling and editing nearly twenty years’ worth of sermons and lessons. Michelle Ule has traced this process in telling the story of the woman behind the world’s best-selling devotional: Mrs. Oswald Chambers.

“It Is God Who Engineers Circumstances”

Trained as a stenographer, Biddy learned to type as well with the goal of financial stability and the lofty hope of one day becoming the first female secretary to England’s prime minister. While she remained very private about her spiritual life, it’s clear that her spiritual journey began under the ministry of Oswald Chambers’s brother Arthur. At some point after she was baptized, Oswald led a week-long mission at his big brother’s church, representing an early interdenominational para-church organization, the League of Prayer.

To riff on Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a [budding ministry], must be in want of a wife,” and although Chambers did not come seeking, he found, and to frame it with his own words:

“Love is not premeditated, it is spontaneous, i.e., it bursts up in extraordinary ways.”

The “bursting up” was followed by a long distance courtship which evolved into an on-the-road marriage in which Oswald and Biddy crossed the Atlantic and covered the Eastern U.S. as far south as Maryland, as far north as Maine (!), and as far west as Ohio, with Oswald speaking at camp meetings and Biddy faithfully taking shorthand at every venue.

When the newlyweds returned to England, they soon took up residence and took on leadership roles in a Bible Training College started by the League of Prayer.  While Oswald lectured, Biddy served as the school’s superintendent and together they grew into the kind of wisdom that taught them the folly of playing the role of “amateur providence” in other lives and the deep faith that comes with depending upon God for every need to be met.

A man of “perpetual motion” (55), Chambers became a bit of a celebrity in his small circle with everyone wanting a piece of his day. In quietly cherishing his words and in unraveling the administrative nightmares of life together in an educational setting, Biddy began to live her way into a calling of her own in an era when a Christian woman was largely seen as an adornment for the arm of her more influential husband. After the birth of their daughter Kathleen in 1913, summer traveling and school-year activities resumed in full force with a small, blonde curly-haired addition to the ministry team.

“God’s Purpose Is Never Man’s Purpose”

When England entered World War I, the Bible Training College era come to an end, and the Chambers family traveled together to Egypt where Oswald served as a YMCA chaplain. Early in their parenting life, they committed themselves to raising Kathleen themselves and keeping her with them, rather then sending her off to boarding school as was the custom of that day.

Life in Egypt was characterized by a “ministry of interruptions” in which Biddy Biddy Chambers: A Sacramental Lifeand Oswald made themselves available to anyone who needed to hear the Truth. “Washing the disciples’ feet” often meant feeding hordes of service men under challenging circumstances, and, for Biddy, it always meant patiently recording every word of her husband’s many sermons and devotionals. With amazing prescience for this time, Oswald referred to Biddy’s great contribution to their ministry in his letters:

“As for Biddy I love her and I am her husband, but I do not believe it is possible to exaggerate what she has been in the way of a Sacrament out here — God conveying His presence through the common elements of an ordinary life.”

When Oswald passed away in Egypt on November 15, 1917, from complications following a ruptured appendix, God’s Word to Joshua became a comfort to Biddy:

“As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee. I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee . . .Only be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:5)

Amidst the fires of sorrow, Biddy continued what Oswald had begun and was comforted by the understanding and appreciation of the servicemen she and her husband had served together. One by one, she began producing books and pamphlets taken from her careful notes and publishing them at her own expense, and this became the scaffolding of her life in England when she returned home to a “home” that did not feel like home with a young daughter who had no memory of the family there and who was used to living amidst the bustle of an Army camp.

“Faith is Deliberate Commitment to a Person Where I See No Way.”

Because Chambers had not been employed by the military, Biddy had no pension, and times were lean for her and Kathleen as they moved from one situation to another, always typing, always publishing, and always just short of enough resources to make ends meet. The notion of publishing a daily devotional work that compiled Oswald’s teaching followed on the heels of the enthusiastic response to a devotional calendar Biddy had produced. Thus, it was in October 1927, in the days when Lewis and Tolkien were lunching at the Eagle and Child pub, when Winnie the Pooh was holding court at the London Zoo, in the year that Amy Carmichael’s Dohnavur Fellowship came into being in India, and that someone made the first transatlantic phone call to North America that My Utmost for His Highest was first published in England.

Biddy went on to run a boutique publishing house, editing and launching Oswald’s writings to an enthusiastic readership that still profits from his words — and from her skill and determination. Personally, my appreciation for Chambers’s work has been heightened by this introduction to his wife’s story. Because I learned that Biddy carefully chose the meditations for Oswald’s birthday, their wedding day, and the anniversary of his death, I want to make a notation in my copy to remind me that the message for that day is specifically assigned.  As a single mum who persevered through two world wars and lived all her days under challenging circumstances, Biddy Chambers lived out the title of her husband’s book, offering her utmost in faithfulness and focus for His highest purposes in her own life and in the lives of her readers every day.


This book was provided by Baker Books, 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.”

I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional click on the title here, 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.

Headings have been quoted from My Utmost for His Highest.

Images are shared from the Michelle Ule’s Pinterest account.

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It’s Not About You — And It Never Was!

There’s always a certain amount of eye-rolling that goes on in a household overrun by teens and young adults. My husband and I are amazingly un-cool. His humor is entirely “Dad-jokes.” My questions and observations are overwhelming evidence that I’m over-thinking everything.  But here’s one tiny bit of wisdom that has been passed down without protest, maybe because it is so abundantly clear: “People who are all wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.”

Sharon Hodde Miller found the pull of this variety of self-focus to be stronger than gravity, robbing her of her joy and killing her confidence, for no accomplishment was ever stellar enough to overcome the downward pull of comparison; no applause was loud enough to drown out the self-condemnation; no audience was large enough to banish the feeling of invisibility.  What we’re all fighting is a “mirror reflex” (25) in which everything is a reflection of ourselves, leading to the tendency to shape our self-image around people, possessions, and profession and to live in a state of self-focus that will “make everything about you, even when it’s not about you.”

The writer of Hebrews has thrown the window open wide for all of us who live in the stuffy room of self absorption, inviting us to stop running the race distracted, focused on our cute sneakers and flawless form, and to “fix our eyes on the only One who can heal our wounds and set us free.” (35)

Living life as if it is all about me sends me off course in seven very specific ways. Sharon refers to them as “mirrors,” and in our own brokenness, they reflect back an image that has nothing to do with the real world as seen through God’s eyes.

  1. When you make God about you, it’s as if He exists to make you feel better about yourself, to serve you, to make your life easier, and to bring about your kingdom and your will on this earth.  Freedom comes when our life focus becomes the glory of God.
  2. When you make family about you, everything comes back to image management. Your kids, your husband, their accomplishments (or lack of same) either puff you up or deflate your bubble. Here’s the truth: “The purpose of your family is not to make you look good. The purpose of your family is not to make you comfortable. . . The purpose of your family is to love your family and other families. The purpose of your marriage is to love God and the world better than you could have done it alone.” (67, 68)
  3. When you make your appearance about you, it becomes an idol, a demanding tyrant. Preoccupation with appearance drives a wedge between women. The alternative (and healthy) view is “compassion over comparison.” “[O]ur goal is not to be the cutest girl in the room . . .” And on the flip side of this, physical imperfections become opportunities to “relinquish our splendor” in humility and grace. (77, 78)
  4. When you make your possessions about you, your hope is in something that is very temporary and unreliable. Sharon unpacks Paul’s instructions to women about modesty in I Timothy with an emphasis on the cultural context of extravagance — apparently a problem in New Testament days as well! The modesty Paul argued for was a path to decrease their own glory and to exalt God by hoping in Him rather than in wealth.
  5. When you make your friendships about you, you will operate out of a position of perceived rejection and continual loneliness. “Our friendships are for us, but they are not about us. They exist primarily for the glory of God. They point us toward the perfect friendship we have with him, and as long as our friendships remain grounded in that truth, even the broken ones will be swept up into the arc of redemption.” (102) 
  6. When you make your calling about you, you will live in dissatisfaction with the present and may find yourself acting in disobedience to his calling in self-protection or self-promotion. Paul was a man who carried a heavy calling as if it were feathers on the scale because “he wasn’t living for his own glory, so nothing was on the line.” (112)
  7. When you make your church about you, suddenly your preferences have become essentials and your search for the “perfect” church will become a matter of consumerism. Sharon compares church attendance to marriage in that both are intended to grow us and to teach us perseverance — for better or for worse.

With the tendency for self-focus hard-wired into our fallen DNA, it would seem to be an impossible struggle to ever become Free of Me, and yet, there are four broad categories of healthful habits that can put us on the right path:

  • Loving God

  • Loving Others

  • Pouring Out from the Well of Your Gifts and Interests

  • Letting God Plant You and Trusting His Heart

Throughout Scripture’s narrative arc, God points to a redemptive plan in which all things will be redeemed — nothing will be wasted. Freedom comes when we see ourselves as part of God’s bigger story, crucially involved in the advancement of His vision for the world while swallowed up in the freedom and contentment of self-forgetfulness. Free of Me is an invitation to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

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This book was provided by BakerBooks, 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.”

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Additional resources

Read more of Sharon’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to ministry and leadership.

Jamie Ivey interviewed Sharon on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way Sharon met her husband, getting her PhD, supporting women in ministry and cheering others on in their unique giftings.

Sharon also shared her story and her book on Melanie Dale’s podcast, Lighten Up! Besides a sneak peek into the concepts behind Free of Me, Sharon talks about what it’s like to be pregnant and professional, falling asleep in class, and resisting the temptation to become cynical in  ministry roles.

This review is coming just in time to be part of #NotAboutMeNovember, an entire month in which we seek God and seek ways we need to make life more about Jesus and less about us. I’m sharing it here along with a crew of other bloggers who are inspired by the goal of making much of Jesus — and less of ourselves!

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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.

Living Beyond First Person: How to Really Benefit from Personality Inventories

We were the fun department:  Human Resources. We all had cute accessories and big hair. (Hey, it was the 80’s.)  After the whole department took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, we gathered after work to discuss the results. Our facilitator began by dividing us into two seemingly random groups tasked with the answer to this question:  “What do you do with time?” What we did not know was that she had divided us on the cusp of the final pair of the MBTI’s psychological preferences, the Judging vs. the Perceiving types.  When we came back together to report, we were stunned by the difference, for while the J’s used words like “invest” and “schedule,” the P’s happily listed activities like “watch my soaps” or “do my nails.”

That ten minute exercise opened my eyes to the importance of Reading People well — of understanding what makes me and the important people in my life tick, because we are different in so many different ways.  As a “J,” it would be easy for me to imagine that everyone thinks of time as a vanishing natural resource that must be rationed, apportioned, maximized, guarded, and measured.  In her most helpful book, Anne Bogel reminds me that I would be incorrect.

Using personality inventories to understand her own unique take on the world changed Anne Bogel’s life, so she has shared her five favorite — not in a manner that shouts “Classroom!” or “Laboratory!” but in a tone that says, “Hey, friend, here’s something that has helped me a lot.  Let me fill you in.”  She shares her own story with the goal of making her readers’ experience of self-discovery go more smoothly than her own.

Defining “Personality”

When we look at people through the lens of personality, we’re looking at a person’s foundational character which includes “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make that person unique.  We’re all inclined to think, feel, and act in particular ways.  Our personalities capture what we’re likely to find relaxing or exciting or pleasurable or tough.”  (LOC 117) While character is malleable and arises out of core beliefs, personality is fairly fixed.  Given this, the five frameworks presented in Reading People are comparable to a good map, for, as we learn the lay of the land, we can begin to live more confidently in a world that goes beyond first person.

The Five Personality Frameworks

  1.  The Five Love Languages

The BEST gift I ever received was a load of bark mulch from my four boys.  They bought it, delivered it, and spread it on all my flower beds.  Can you detect from this that my love language is acts of service?  It turns out that not everyone would be as over-the-moon at the memory of that (perfect) gift, because “we all have a vehicle that needs a certain kind of fuel.” (LOC 979) For others, that fuel is love expressed in quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, or by gifts given and received.  The point of knowing someone’s love language is to bridge the communication gap so that we are expressing love in a way that our favorite people can actually receive.

2.  Keirsey’s Temperaments

In the 1950’s, clinical psychologist David Keirsey developed an outline of four basic temperaments.  Some of us still remember Tim LaHaye’s treatment of this concept from the 70’s (sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric).  Under Keirsey’s framework, our temperament is determined and described in terms of how we use words and how we use tools.  The identification of Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals puts on glorious display the truth of C.S. Lewis’s famous quote:

“There are no ordinary people.”

We honor one another’s differences by appreciating and attempting to understand each other — without trying to shoehorn others into our favorite cookie cutter image.

3.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Some mother/daughter teams write books together, make quilts, or start family businesses.  Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a personality inventory together.  Based on the work of Carl Jung, and overlapping in fascinating ways with Keirsey’s temperaments, the MBTI assessment is based on eight psychological preferences that come in pairs:

Introversion (I)/Extroversion (E)
Intuition (N)/Sensing (S)
Thinking (T)/Feeling (F)
Judging (J)/Perceiving (P)

Because the focus is on personal growth, this is a favorite test for colleges and in the workplace. Online assessments are available, and may be a good place to begin,  but looking in further detail at cognitive functions associated with Myers Briggs added depth to my understanding and can also be helpful in clarifying one’s type.

4.  The Clifton StrengthsFinder

In 1998, a group of scientists led by Donald Clifton developed a personality framework based on human strengths.  The tool is available in a book that was published in 2007 (StrenthsFinder 2.0).  Assuming that we are NOT well-rounded, the StrengthsFinder is built around thirty-four “talent themes” which are broken down into four categories:  executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.  Once we find our strengths, the crucially formative question is:  Are we using them?

5.  The Enneagram

Based on the name for a nine-sided polygon, the Enneagram has been around for centuries and focuses on motivations.  I found that focusing on negative qualities of each of the nine types helped me to identify myself, so brace yourself for a personality framework that is neither warm nor fuzzy.  In fact, a good indication that you’ve nailed your Enneagram type is if you feel vaguely exposed and uncomfortable about it.  There are a number of online assessments, and these will get you started on the basics, but there are wings and arrows and subtypes and enough other details to keep the devoted Ennegram seeker engaged and analyzing for a long time.  However, even a rudimentary understanding of our type can help us in becoming a better version of ourselves.

Making the Most of Your Investigation

One of the main strengths of Reading People is Anne’s practical application of self-knowledge.  We don’t take personality assessments simply for raw data about ourselves, and there are a number of very helpful thoughts about the use of assessments that bubbled to the surface as I read Anne’s thoughts on personality:

  1.  Be honest.  “Aspirational answers won’t do you any good; only true ones will.”  So when taking a personality assessment, don’t waste time giving the response that you “know is right” or that you wish you were.  Report on who you are today.
  2. There is no “best type.”  Remember that we are hard-wired for personality.  Therefore, by God’s design there are delightful qualities to introverts who think deeply and respond to beauty as well as to extroverts who get the party going and are the last to leave. Those who feel loved when they receive gifts are no less worthy of love than those who prefer acts of service or meaningful words.
  3. Your temperament or type is not the boss of you.  Identification of one’s type is not an excuse for living cramped and small.  It does not come with a free pass to say, “This is just how I am. You’ll have to put up with me.”  Instead, self-knowledge is an invitation to develop what Ann calls “an arsenal of coping strategies” (Loc 560) for dealing with situations outside your comfort zone.
  4. Understanding your personality and the tendencies of your loved ones will not eliminate conflict.  However, it will grease the skids in traveling through conflict and make the inevitable friction that comes with life together more manageable and less damaging.

In these days of middle age (on the home front) and angry, opinionated words (in the news), I am drawn to the beautiful humility that comes as a fringe benefit with self-knowledge.  Every day, it is my privilege to choose between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” (LOC 2666)  I can keep plowing my rut deeper and lonelier, or I can beat my plowshare back into a sword of Truth and use it as a pointer toward forgiveness and integral living.

Knowing that God has spoken words of blessing over all the types and temperaments is an invitation to declare a truce in the war against myself and to receive with open hands the gift that is me, and then to turn that gratitude outward in thanksgiving for and acceptance of all the different expressions of God’s creativity.

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This book was provided by Baker 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.”

And . . .

. . . come back Thursday to take a look at the reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. We’ll begin the discussion here on the following Thursday — September 7.  I’ll be sharing my insights on Chapters 1-3 and will be looking forward to hearing YOUR voice.  If you choose to blog about the book at any time, be sure to share a link in the comments so we can all profit from your detailed analysis of the content.

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.

Martin Luther in His Own Words

Five hundred years ago, the writing and teaching of Martin Luther set in motion within the church a series of reforms that were so widespread and foundational that we still speak of them as The Reformation.  In this anniversary year, much is being written about the lives of the reformers, but direct access to Luther’s commentaries, sermons, and lectures is an irreplaceable part of understanding the truth that triggered such sweeping changes in the way we understand justification by faith, freedom of religion, the nature of salvation, and the wonder of God’s grace.  Based on updated translations by Dr. Jack D. Kilcrease, he and Erwin Lutzer have compiled and edited Martin Luther in His Own Words so that the essential writings of the reformation are available as a resource for study and for inspiration.

The text is arranged around the five solas of the reformation with supporting excerpts from books, catechisms, commentaries, sermons, and lectures that flowed from Luther’s pen:

Sola Fide:  Faith Alone

“A Christian is free lord of all and subject to none;
a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.”

From On Christian Liberty

Although Luther did not hold to mind/body dualism, he often used language of “spirit” and “flesh,” and this quote differentiates between the believer’s standing before God and her relationship with others on this planet.  Both statements are rooted in the writing of Paul who “made [himself] a servant to all” while at the same time urged believers to “owe no one anything except to love each other.”

Luther’s Commentary on Galatians further explicates this relationship between faith and works with the stunning conclusion that, while the works of the law do not assist us in salvation, it is only people of faith who are truly “doers of the law.”

Sola Gratia:  Grace Alone

“To fulfill the law means to do its work eagerly, lovingly, and freely, without the constraint of the law; it means to live well and in a manner pleasing to God, as though there were no law or punishment.”

From Preface to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Luther’s translation of the Bible eventually became the standard translation within the German-speaking world (equivalent to our English KJV).   In his introductions to each book, his teaching lived on long after his death, influencing both Tyndale and Wesley in their spiritual development.

In his teaching and his writing, Luther affirmed the role of the law as teacher, but declared its insufficiency to bring about righteousness since it is impossible for humans to consistently obey the law.  The role of the gospel is to pave the way for new life, a work of grace in which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believing heart.

Sola Scriptura:  Scripture Alone

“The clarity of Scripture is twofold, just as the obscurity is also twofold.  The one is external, placed in the ministry of the Word; the other internal, placed in the understanding of the heart.  If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scripture but he that has the Spirit of God. . . If you speak of he external clearness, nothing at all is left obscure or ambiguous.  But all things that are in the Scriptures are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world.”

From The Bondage of the Will

Luther held a high view of Scripture, affirming that, indeed, the  believer can understand what it teaches on a particular subject with careful teaching, and that knowledge of Christ’s saving death on the cross, the central teaching of Scripture, is through the Word and by grace.

Solus Christus: Christ Alone

“The sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, fastened themselves on Christ and condemned him.  But because Christ is God, he had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness.”

From Commentary on Galatians:  Christ Took Our Sin

Death of the sinless Christ earned justification for those who believe.  Luther’s Christology differed from medieval theologians who were unwilling to accept Paul’s teaching that Christ’s work on our behalf was a sin-bearing work rather than merely a “superior moral behavior.”    He argued that if we do not believe our sins have been laid on Christ, “then it is up to us to bear them.”

Soli Deo Gloria:  Glory to God Alone

But let this be said . . . that we are to trust in God alone and look to him and expect from him nothing but good, as from one who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace, and all necessaries of both temporal and eternal things . . . as an eternal fountain that gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good and from which flows forth all that is and is called ‘good.'”

From The Large Catechism

When Luther and his colleagues discovered through visitations to country parishes that the state of Christian belief and practice were far from orthodox, he began writing summaries of basic Christian beliefs — not to replace the Bible, but to facilitate study of the Bible and worship with understanding of who God is and all that He has done.

Kilcrease and Lutzer provide just the right amount of editorial input and background material, and then allow the words of Luther to stand on their own.  Looking through the cultural lens of 2017, Luther’s quest for salvation and earnest pursuit of truth stands out in startling relief against our backdrop of spiritual malaise and cultural assimilation.  Thanks be to God that the realities trumpeted by Luther and his colleagues assure us that it is possible even today to embrace a livelier faith and that those who believingly follow Jesus Christ are privileged  and compelled to be among those who are always growing, always striving for clarity of belief and faithfulness in practice.  Because of the work of Christ and the revealed truth of God’s Word, by grace and through faith, we are always reforming — to the glory of God.

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This book was provided by Baker Books, 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.”

Michelle DeRusha has written a biographical account of Martin Luther’s life through the lens of his marriage to Katharina von Bora.  Click here to read my review of Katharina and Martin Luther:  The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk.

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.

 

God Bless the Whole World — No Exceptions

I started listening to NPR a few years ago because I had entered a season of needing to hear a different voice, of wanting to listen to viewpoints and encounter opinions that I did not share.  In these days of challenging conversations around politics and race, it’s important for me to remember that I am called to love, to trade my litmus tests for conversations with real people.  In navigating the deep divides within the church on everything from immigration and the role of women to worship style and the definition of family, more than ever the body of Christ must be the force that passes through our differences all the way to grace.  Deidra Riggs reminds me in ONE that Unity in a Divided World must be an intentional thing, something that we pray for and work toward.  Jesus modeled this focused attention in His prayer recorded in John’s Gospel:

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

This begs the question for this middle-aged, stodgy, and opinionated soul:  Can I love my neighbor “without being concerned about whether [my] neighbor is right?”  King Solomon and Parker J. Palmer invite me into a Third Way in which my soul hears well and is, therefore, enabled to choose the God-honoring, others-serving path that may go against the grain.

Ambassadors of Unity

Deidra traces the path of reconciliation that leads to oneness, urging readers:

  • to ask challenging questions about our motives for living toward the homogeneous and the “safe”;
  • to offer and to seek forgiveness;
  • to continually remind one another that we are one.

The Two Chairs

Whenever people come together, there are two chairs in the room.  One is the seat of justice, and the other is the seat of mercy.  “Only God has the credentials to sit in both of those seats and perfectly administer both justice and mercy,” (64) and while we may crave justice, it is critical to recall that God “does not ignore our broken hearts” when He invites us to sit in the seat of mercy and to view life from the perspective of someone who has wronged us.  (75)

When Jesus prayed for his followers (present and future), He would not have been blindsided by the fact that an outcome of His magnificent creativity would be uniqueness — manifested in differences of opinions.  It would be alarming if we all walked in lockstep on every issue.

“Oneness is not about conforming.
Oneness is about transforming.”  (97)

The oneness that Jesus prayed for us is bigger than our position on an issue or our political affiliation.  The challenge is to love well — especially if disagreements make love an unlikely thing, for then the radical love of God is put on display.

Going to Ferguson

Because her heart was broken, and because she needed to see the fallout from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Deidra boarded a plane and spent three days in the sweltering heat, living in the midst of the tragedy and joining in the lament.  Two years later, when Alton Sterling was killed, she used the internet as a virtual gathering place in which the “Prayers of the People” became an invitation to come together around shared grief.  Looking squarely at tragedy, acknowledging together that we live in the space between what is and what will be can be the starting place for God-initiated transformation leading to oneness in heart and in mind.

Spiritual Integrity

Like Deidra, I am the bologna in a generational sandwich.  Mine comprises an elderly mother on one side, and on the other, a range of adult and teen sons.  Add to this a quest for a vibrant marriage, ministry, blogging, and the occasional cup of tea with a friend, and the tendency is to fragment, bringing only part of the self to each aspect of life. Unity in a divided world requires personal and internal oneness which brings a screeching halt to the sacred/secular dichotomy and nullifies the “requirement” that I be all things to all people.  Only Jesus can do that, and it turns out that His prayer in John 17 is a prayer for integrity, a heart’s cry from the Son to the Father against the “massive fault line that runs through the center of my soul.” (156)

The unity that Jesus prayed for among those who believingly follow Him is a product of the “oneness within each follower.” (157)  Spiritual integrity de-emphasizes lines of division, assuring our hearts that all of life is sacred.  We care for and respect our one-and-only heart through radical practices of grace, going home to our roots for restoration, and recalibrating our perspective through regular observance of Sabbath (which Eugene Peterson defines this way:  “Take nothing for granted.  And do it every week.”)

Gathered under God’s loving wings, may we look around us at all those within His vast circumference and find, to our great surprise, that this is what it means to be One; that this shared protection and provision is proof that God loves the whole world and delights in each one of us — no exceptions.

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This book was provided by Baker Books, 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.”

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Awakening Courage in Community

Whether it’s feelings of inadequacy, parenting anxieties, or panic over the latest terrorist tactics in the news, the challenge to face down our fears and to move forward into new, healthful, and bold behaviors is a common thread for January writing and thinking.  The problem, however, with this seasonal booster is that the need for courage doesn’t expire on February 1.

Fear Fighting is a year-round calling and Kelly Balarie is a natural born cheerleader, committed to awakening courage in her readers.  She has earned some pretty impressive credentials as a fear fighter in her battles with an eating disorder, depression, financial stresses, and family tragedies.  She has learned, first hand, that transformation is an act of God that takes place in the present tense.  With a raised fist, she trumpets the invitation to be a modern-day Deborah, the fiery woman from the time of the Old Testament Judges who dared to ask questions, listened for God’s answers, ejected the enemy’s lies, timed her move, and then acted in confident belief without fear — because she knew where she was going.

Since no one is completely fearless, everyone can fear less, and learning to live as a fear fighter is best accomplished in community.  Kelly has flung the doors open wide, inviting readers into her story and into a network of like-minded warriors through her website and her blog. (Click to visit!)

Fear fighting is a process and growth happens one step at a time.  The question that comes to my mind is this:  What would you do to a friend who lied to you as often as your fears have?  This helpful filter (p. 64) is a tool for identifying the voice inside your head:

  1.  If it woos with the voice of love, it is God.
  2. If it calls you closer to God, it is God.
  3. If it speaks truth, it is God.
  4. If it wants to beat you, tie you, and throw you out back for always being despicable, it is not God.  

“Anything not founded in love does not equal God.”

It is no surprise to me that thousands of years ago, Isaiah the prophet also expressed the invitation to become a fear fighter:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,”  Isaiah 41:10.

In these early days of 2017, it’s a great time to admit to the reality of fears that whisper words of condemnation and failure and to accept the help of others, to learn from their stories, and, most crucially, to enter into the transforming Truth of God’s Word.

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This book was provided by Baker Books, 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.”

captureJoin me here on Thursday for week one of a book discussion group on C.S. Lewis’s novel, Till We Have Faces.

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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 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 take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

The Apostles’ Creed for the 21st Century

In the every day of my walking-around life, heart and mind collaborate.  Putting a note in my patient husband’s lunch communicates love, but, in my case, it is likely to be motivated by knowledge:  he’s having a rough week; he did something terrific that I want to thank him for; the day ahead holds special challenges.

Truth about God can work in a similar way, directing the heart’s affection toward action, and although I am not from a tradition that uses creeds or written prayers in corporate worship, I have found that ancient words play an important role in framing my thoughts when I ponder the nature of God.  In What We Believe, R.C. Sproul has unrolled the parchment to display the Apostles’ Creed, clarifying and applying it line by line, phrase by phrase to life here on the ground in the 21st century so that the glorious truth of words from A.D. 700 can pour forth for the benefit of both heart and mind.

His outline is straightforward and provides the biblical basis for each tenet, including some of the more puzzling references.  For example, I have always felt uneasy about the inclusion of the concept of Jesus’ descending into hell because He is so clear on the day of His crucifixion that He would see the thief “in paradise.”  He also commits His spirit to the Father at the point of death, and neither reference supports the possibility of a missionary journey to hell.  R.C. Sproul concludes, along with John Calvin and other Reformers, that the “descent into hell” should be understood as a spiritual reality:  as Jesus hung forsaken by God on the cross, He experienced “the full torment of hell” for us.  Dr. Sproul doesn’t address the inconsistency of listing a “spiritual reality” in the same breath as the stunning physical realities of conception, birth, execution, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, but I was helped in my thinking, nonetheless.

Turning the pages of What We Believe, five big-picture truths were reinforced for me:

  1.  When it comes to faith, content (or the object of faith) is key.  The Christian is called to a faith in particular, not merely a faith “in faith,” or a warm feeling of hopefulness.
  2. Intellectual assent to truth is insufficient. “Faith loves truth,” but more importantly, it “delights in Christ,” the Object of our faith.
  3.  The Apostles’ Creed speaks from the assumption of an open universe in which the natural laws (like everything else) are God’s, and He is able to step into His creation for the purpose of causing extraordinary events such as the virgin birth and the resurrection.  It’s a nice bonus when science and Scripture sing in harmony, but my faith will not be jettisoned by lack of physical proof that a virgin birth could be replicated.
  4. The Christian faith is unmistakably Trinitarian.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God and each is addressed in The Creed.  Chapter 11 is a clear and helpful expansion of the Creed’s six-word assertion about the third member of the Trinity, including Old Testament references to the Spirit, and the Spirit’s role in regeneration and sanctification.
  5. Christianity is social, not solitary.  The nurturing of and the practice of correct theology happen in the context of “the communion of saints,” but the publication of the Gospel will only occur as Christians become embedded in the lives of those outside the church.  “In the world but not of the world” is wildly foundational to the amphibious life of the believer, and so we need one another as anchors and ballast.

Here on this planet we will only begin to understand the nature of God.  The Bible presents an abundance of truth and theology provides mental file folders for organizing that truth.  Credal statements serve to summarize the content of belief so that the truth can be succinctly spoken or held up and examined for teaching and inspiration.  The words of the Apostles’ Creed are a path toward a still place where the affirmation of beliefs in a renewed mind kindles love in a heart that has been set free by truth.

This book was provided by BakerBooks, 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.”

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 these communities on a regular basis:   Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and TruthStill Saturday, Weekend Whispers, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, Playdates with God,  A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect,Literacy Musing Mondays, Purposeful Faith, The Loft, Words with Winter, Rich Faith Rising, Encourage Me Monday, Tuesday Talk, What to Read Wednesday, Booknificent Thursday, Give Me Grace, Three-Word Wednesday, Word-filled Wednesdays, Faith ‘n Friends,Essential Things