Attending to the Details of Congruence

No one has to remind the forsythia bush outside my dining room window to break forth into yellow luminescence as an announcement that spring has come.  The sassy gray squirrel steals shamelessly from the bird feeder “according to his kind,” and the chickadee scolds and stitches up the air behind her — because that is what chickadees do.  Of all God’s creation, it is only humanity that struggles toward congruence of our inside with our outside, of our calling and our walking.  Gerard Manley Hopkins captures the beautiful true-to-essence behaviors of stones and dragonflies, of violin strings and bells in his classic poem As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire and nodding in agreement with his conclusion, Eugene Peterson has borrowed the title for his 2017 compilation of sermons taken from 29 years of preaching from a pulpit in Maryland.

Peterson concludes that part of spiritual formation is living into this congruence between “the means by which we live” and “the ends for which we live.”  For humans, this is not a mindless outcome of biology and physics, but rather a living out of the Christ life, one glorious manifestation of Hopkins’ “ten thousand places” in which Christ plays.

This witness from a poem — along with his realization that there was a disconnect between his preaching and his deepest convictions of what he should be doing as a pastor — marked the beginning of a new way of viewing ministry for Eugene Peterson.  He began to see his congregation “just as they were, not how [he] wanted them to be.”  He stopped viewing them as “either problems to be fixed or resources to be exploited.”  The new collaborative relationship, in worship and in life, is reflected in this collection of forty-nine sermons arranged in seven sections:

Part 1:  Preaching in the Company of Moses

Although Peterson addresses his introductory material to those who preach for a living, those of us who teach or write (for a life) will be enriched by insights like this:

“Is it possible to take the Torah apart historically and then put it back together again as a book of faith with theological and literary integrity?  I think it is.  It is not only possible but worth any effort it might take.”  (6)

With that in mind, the seven sermons in this section are designed to “nourish the storytelling imagination” (7) through stories in Genesis that reveal the nature and character of God.  Abraham, the friend of God; Moses, the signpost pointing to Christ; and a stunning analysis of Leviticus 19:18 that takes the focus off the law and the lists and puts it on love:  “the primary verb in our Scriptures.” (37)

Part 2:  Preaching in the Company of David

Sermons based on the Bible’s prayer book, the Psalms, drive home the truth that “prayer is an act of attention.”  Reading through the Old Testament right now with my patient husband, we are hopping back and forth between David-on-the-run and David the lyricist.  Since “everything that happened in David’s life became prayer,” I am encouraged to let my own context flow seamlessly into conversation with God.  Seven sermons from the Psalms bridge Old and New Testaments with surprising connections that encourage me to look for ways in which  my own story is woven around and through listening prayer.

Part 3:  Preaching in the Company of Isaiah

I saved this chapter for last (like dessert) because Isaiah is my favorite prophet, and I was not disappointed.  The jarring realism of the prophetic word gets ample play in Peterson’s analysis:

“Prophets insist that God is the sovereign center, not off in the wings awaiting our beck and call.  And prophets insist that we deal with God as God reveals himself, not as we imagine him to be.”

A right reading of the prophets protects us from dividing the secular from the sacred, setting off a safe place for a tame God to act, and then tending to our own business in the “real life” category.  “Prophets will have none of this.”  Everything is God’s, and the flood of His holiness knocks down the dividing walls and brings everything under His scrutiny and jurisdiction.

Part 4:  Preaching in the Company of Solomon

I doubt if I’ve heard seven sermons in my whole life taken from Old Testament Wisdom literature, so I’m in dire need of the enhanced “quotidian imagination” Peterson writes of: an “imagination soaked in the ordinary, the everyday.”  With characteristic clarity, Peterson notes a “polarity” among these books in which the Song of Solomon and Job contrast ecstasy with devastation while the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contrast the sacredness of the everyday round with the determination to persevere in spite of the mundane details.

“In these books, human experience as the arena in which God is present and working is placed front and center.”

Part 5:  Preaching in the Company of Peter

In addition to his letters, Peter’s voice vibrates behind Mark’s in the second gospel.  With this in mind, the “incarnational storytelling” of the New Testament takes on an electrical quality.  Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ” arises from three years of intimate research, meals on the road, sharing of daily space. While we may struggle to embrace the human side of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, Peter would have had no doubt.

When he made his insightful statement that Jesus is “the Christ,” what Peter was really saying was this:  “You are God among us.”  And no sooner had he come to this elaborate conclusion, but God the Son began the process of introducing the notion that He would die.  Nowhere else do we witness this degree of conceptual whiplash between the idea of Jesus as “God through and through” and “human through and through.”

Peterson’s inclusion of his sermon on “the manure story” feels almost like bonus content, for it presents a four verse parable about an unproductive fig tree as an invitation to join God in the slow (and sometimes messy) solution to a presenting problem:  Be quiet in the presence of death while waiting for new life to emerge.

Part 6:  Preaching in the Company of Paul

Prolific Paul is described as “the gold standard in the world of theology,” and Peterson dips his brush into seven of Paul’s letters to illustrate four elements of Paul’s “theological imagination:

  1.  His submission to Scripture —  “Paul is not an independent thinker figuring things out on his own. . . As he writes his letters, Paul’s mind is entirely harnessed to Scripture.” (269)
  2. His extravagant embrace of mystery — “There is a kind of mind, too common among us, that is impatient of mystery.  We want to know what is going on.  But such impatience short-circuits maturity.” (271)
  3. His use of language — “Ivory tower intellectuals and rubber-hits-the-road pragmatists like things organized and orderly.  That is not the kind of language we find in Paul.  Paul uses words not to define but to evoke.” (272)
  4. His words came to us through letters in accessible terms – “Theology is not talking about God but living in community with persons in relationships . . . [Paul’s} theology was written in community with a host of people in the context of living out the faith.”  (273)

Part 7:  Preaching in the Company of John of Patmos

John’s writing emphasizes Jesus’ conversations and His prayers.  As a lover of the Word, Peterson throws the spotlight on John’s easy familiarity with the Old Testament:  in Revelation’s 404 verses, there are 518 references to earlier scriptures.  John wrote in three different genres, but all with the heart and soul of a pastor, communicating in love to a group of believers.  Perhaps it is for this reason that Eugene Peterson’s pastoral heart is apparent in this final section:

“As it turns out, in this business of living the Christian life, one of the most neglected aspects in reading the Scriptures is reading them formatively and imaginatively, reading in order to live.

“Worship God. . . Worship gathers everything in our common lives that has been dispersed by sin and brings it to attention before God.”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire captures the heart and wisdom of a pastor with a sense of calling and a deep knowledge of Scripture.

With an overwhelming volume of content available online and so many new books being published every month, these “kingfisher sermons” stand by themselves in their timeless application of Scriptural truth to boots-on-the- ground living.  I can’t think of a thing on Netflix or anywhere else that I would bother to “binge watch,” but I most heartily enjoyed (and highly recommend) the “binge-reading” of Eugene Peterson’s sermons.

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

Read more about Eugene Peterson and As Kingfishers Catch Fire at these sites provided by Multnomah.

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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.

Words Matter

Words are important.

Just ask my grandson.  He’ll tell you all about “boots,” and “socks.”

“Balls” and “buttons.”

And he’ll point these items out to you in the most unlikely places — where you would never have noticed them yourself.  He is in the process of finding words for all the most important things in his life.

Words matter to him, and I am eager to show him Holli Conger’s book about Jesus from the Little Words Matter series.  With layered cut paper images, brightly colored drawings, and lots of endearing lopsided smiles on bearded faces, Holli has illustrated the life of Christ in twelve two-page spreads, creating a board book that tells the greatest story ever told using only twelve words.

This is the kind of book that a tiny boy can sit still for.  Soon, each word will become a prompt for filling in the rest of the story by heart.

Newly minted readers with a list of sight-words to memorize will welcome “miracle,” “loving,” and “tomb.”  They will feel very grown-up sounding out “king,” “teacher,” and “healer” as they read aloud to a younger sibling.  (Little show-offs will have the whole book memorized in no time.)

Toss this sturdy board book into the church bag for wigglers who are still too young for their own Bible.  “Pastor is talking about the cross.  Can you find the picture that goes with it?”

The solid binding and rounded corners make this book a great companion in the car seat, as well.  I recommend inventing a game where the little person in the back seat calls out a word from the book, and the big person with the steering wheel has to tell as much of Jesus’ story from that page as she can (with lots of help from the back seat).

Little words matter and so do “little minutes.”
Bonding with a toddler over a book about Jesus?
Yes, this is a good use of my minutes!


This book was provided by B&H Kids, a division of B&H 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:   Looking Up,  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 Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, 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

 

 

 

 

Every Story Whispers His Name

What if every little person could grow up knowing that she is lovely because God loves her?

What if everything in the sky and under the sky were suddenly revealed as mirrors, reflecting God’s huge “I LOVE YOU.”

What if the Bible could be understood NOT as a book of rules or as a dusty collection of stories about perfect people, but instead as a love story that really happened, full of adventure and featuring a daring rescue?

It appears that author, Sally Lloyd-Jones may have asked herself these questions before sitting down to write the text of The Story of God’s Love for You. 

With her eyes and mind lashed securely to the biblical record, Sally has woven the familiar Bible stories with elegant descriptions in which God hovers like a mother bird over His creation and in which the sun dances and gleams and bounds across the sky in a race with Mary Magdalene on Resurrection Day.

With theological precision and straightforward parlance that explains and depicts without talking down, The Story of God’s Love for You demonstrates that every subplot in the Bible — from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem — shines with laser clarity on two over-arching themes:

  1.  The Terrible Lie:  God doesn’t really love you, and He doesn’t want you to be happy.
  2. The Great Rescue:  God’s secret rescue plan to get His children back is based in His “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” When the rescue is accomplished, His children will believe in His love and delight in His world — a perfect home once again.

With text taken directly from her award-winning picture book (The Jesus Storybook Bible), Sally has created a chapter book that highlights the big-picture, narrative arc of redemption.  For example, in her account of Noah’s rescue from the flood, Sally describes the aching and yet majestic truth that the rainbow, “God’s war bow,” is aimed away from humanity with bull’s-eye accuracy toward the heart of heaven.  God would let His arrow fly and it would pierce His own Son.

The arrangement is perfect for young readers or for reading aloud during family devotional time.  It will assist the new believer who wants an overview that lays out the narrative arc of Scripture, and will inspire the seasoned saint who wants a refreshing reminder that Jesus is the Baby who would bring laughter to the whole world, the Prince who would break His own heart to heal humanity, the only Rule-keeper, and the Rescuer of His people.

If you’re planning a read-through-the-Bible project for 2016, sit down for a couple of hours with Sally’s book — or read it to a favorite little person!  Let The Story of God’s Love for You tune your soul to the truth that every story in the Bible whispers the name of Jesus.

Then . . . open the pages of Scripture and let your heart rejoice.

This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program 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:   Looking Up,  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 Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Thankful 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

Your Story Matters

When Esteban, the church parking lot attendant, was charged with heresy, no one took the accusation seriously — at least not at first.  He viewed his trial as one more platform for The Story, and with a very influential audience.  No one could have predicted the crowd becoming a mob, and his listeners becoming his executioners.

If you recognize this account of the stoning of Steven from the book of Acts in the Bible’s New Testament, you’re ready to read Into the Fray by Matt Mikalatos.  Transporting first-century events and characters  into present-day settings pushes aside the veil of historical remove:  “Oh, yes, this is the way it would have felt if I had been there.  This is the prejudice, or the legalism, or the wrong-headedness that exists today in the church . . . that exists in my own heart.”

With each chapter built around a modern-day re-telling of a narrative from the early church, Matt tells it slant and then pulls back the magnifying glass — behold, it’s a mirror, and the revulsion that Dr. Lucas (Luke, the author of Acts) feels for the Ethiopian eunuch calls out our present-day homophobia or rejection of those who challenge our neat categories.  The problem of feeding the Greek widows becomes a discussion of the bodies’ slow acceptance of minorities, our rejection of the “unlikely person” who just shows up one Sunday, and the logistics of church growth.  Just what would happen if our fellowship went from 120 people to three thousand plus?  That’s a lot of folding chairs!

Matt’s writing reads like the transcript of a TED talk or an NPR show, and just as The First Time We Saw Him drew me into the plot of familiar gospel stories because of the unfamiliarity of their re-telling, Into the Fray reveals the power of story to cut through our staid and settled thinking, to send tremors to the heart.  Savor this description of the Good News, put into the mouth of Ananias:

“It moved into homes through tiny cracks like a mist.  It burst out of any prison cell, strong as a lion.  It couldn’t be contained or controlled, only heard or received or retold. . . Of course people tried to destroy it.  They tried to stamp it out like fire.  They beat it with branches.  They blew on it, they fanned it, they threw water on it.  But the water only caused it to spread.  Trying to restrain it was like trying to grab hold of the wind. Trying to stop it was like trying to put smoke back into a fire.  Yes, the story burned and every person it touched was irrevocably changed.”

If this is the reason God spoke to humanity in story form, could this also be motivation, then, to tell our own stories?  Paul did not share the stories of John or Peter; it was his own compelling and powerful encounters with God and his adventures on The Way that drew first-century Gentiles to Christ and that continue to capture our imagination today.

Could this be the reason why the book of Acts ends as it does, with Paul “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him,” (Acts 28:31)?  Paul was a story-teller, and we are invited to pick up the thread of his Tale, to demonstrate the Spirit’s weaving of life into Life until the fibers of the story touch every corner of the world.  Our stories do matter.


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:  Looking Up,   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 Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect, Literacy Musing Mondays, Purposeful Faith, Unite