Embracing Brave

It certainly doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, it’s a glorious thing — the meeting over tea that has all the marks of the C.S. Lewis definition of friendship:

““Friendship … is born at the moment when one [wo]man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”

Open the cover of Brave Faith by Mary Geisen and begin to ponder with an understanding friend what it means to move toward the courage that leaves “fear, uncertainty, and other stumbling blocks behind.”  Read Mary’s personal narrative, and find yourself also yearning to be on the way to a soul-enriching journey down the road and away from your comfort zone.

Dipping her brush into the Scriptural accounts of the lives of brave saints, Mary also consults with well-known authors who have offered their wisdom on the brave life including Holly Barrett, Preston Yancey, Annie Downs, Emily Freeman, Jennie Allen, and Ann Voskamp.

Living brave may mean correcting our misunderstandings of what qualifies as brave.  In her own journey, Mary found herself staying put when that was not her plan at all.  Caring for her father in the final days of his life, Mary put her dreams on hold and found a contentment that was every bit as inexplicable as the wild courage that enabled her to tackle a mid-life missions trip to Nicaragua.

The brave give thanks by faith, and Mary challenges her readers to stop in their tracks and to give thanks for the gift of their present circumstances — whatever they may be.

Brave living is seasoned liberally with an abundance of well-placed yeses — and circumspect noes — and a clear-eyed awareness that much of life is not ours to control.  Living life’s messy stories with grace and strength requires a God-given courage and a living faith that trusts when God says, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you . . .” (Jeremiah 29:11).

With daily Scripture reading and an offering of questions that invite the reader to ponder and to journal in reply, Brave Faith opens a soul-lifting conversation and then leaves space for the Holy Spirit to work as the reader steps out in courage — and in surprise, for the journey toward brave is a life-long process with a new vision and a fresh opportunity to experience the wonder around every corner.

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

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Sacred Reading – Hands On

Lectio divina, the practice of “sacred reading,” brings to mind images of flickering candles and meditative silences broken only by the turn of a page or the scratch of a pen on paper.  The flickering candle I can manage, but my dining room table “command post” is where just about any kind of reading happens at my house, making it no less sacred, of course, but incorporating more interruptions, perhaps, than would be ideal.  Maybe this is why I found the framework provided in Jan Johnson’s Meeting God in Scripture to be so helpful.  She refers to her guidance as “training wheels” to help readers move toward meaningful meditation upon the truths of Scripture.

Since at least the 5th century, Christians have referred to four traditional steps in lectio divina:  

  1.  Read (lectio)
  2. Reflect (meditatio)
  3. Respond (oratio)
  4. Rest (contemplatio)

Jan has added Relax and Refocus (silencio) to the beginning and appended Trying it On (incarnatio) to the end, and I found her wording to be extremely helpful in clarifying the intention behind the traditional Latin steps.

For serious students of the Bible, these six steps are likely already happening in some form, however haphazardly.  The point of lectio divina is NOT to add another check list to my life, but, rather, to gently invite me to wonder if my reading of Scripture is grounded in careful thinking about the text.

In Jan Johnson’s forty guided meditations based on brief Scripture passages, she demonstrates not only a method of study, but also a manner of questioning and a leisurely and yet purposeful approach to reading with the intent of changing and deepening the way Christians approach the written Word independently:

Relax and Refocus (Silencio) — Often, Jan poses a question to focus the thoughts on the day’s passage.  Distractions are offered, palms up, to the God who is present and who stands ready to speak to the believer through His inspired Word.  This purposeful pause reinforces the conversational aspect of reading a Living Word.

Read (Lectio) — Here is where we so often go wrong (if we’re not careful).  God’s Word is not for skimming, so reading aloud, reading passages repetitively, and reading with a question in mind are all important slow-me-down safeguards. The goal is for the words to “fall on our ear” in such a way that we perceive what is being said.  Text for all forty passages that Jan examines are included in the book along with helpful explanatory notes.

Reflect (Meditatio) — The questions and cues provided invite the use of sanctified imagination in the reading of a narrative passage and also encourage readers to approach discourse passages on a quest for the particular truth that “shimmers” for them.  God’s invitation, whenever we come to His Word, is to enlarge our understanding of Him through careful reflection on the Truth presented.  Jan teaches her readers how to be a “fly on the wall,” observing, for example, likely facial expressions, the probable responses of gathered crowds, and even the physical details of the setting and the clothing that would have been worn.

Respond (Oratio) — This step brings the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer into one truly God-centered interaction in which we respond to God according to what we believe that we have learned from our careful reading of Scripture.  This response may be verbal, musical, or it may take written form as a journal entry or a drawing.  It may involve questioning God about His ways or thanking Him for some aspect of His character that has been revealed.  The underlying question that drives oratio is:  “What do you most need to say to God at this moment?”

Rest (Comtemplatio) — Here in North America, we have already slammed shut the cover of our Bible and bustled off to our next task long before reaching step five, but Jan emphasizes the importance of simply being present to God, absorbing the truth that has been uncovered, and then responding in worship.  It is helpful to ask at this point, “What was God up to in this passage?” or “Based on what you have read, what is God like?”

Try It On (Incarnatio) — Incarnational faith involves action that arises out of truth.  Jan’s suggestions prime the pump for readers to come up with their own ways to express their living out the truth of a passage.

Integrated throughout Meeting God in Scripture are essays that tackle important questions in the practice of lectio divina.  Having taught the Bible for years, I spent a considerable amount of time reading the essay that compares and contrasts meditation and application.  Both ask, “How does this passage intersect with my life?”  However, meditation is an ongoing conversation with God and results in deep and abiding change in character from the inside out.  Application can tend to be more analytical, left-brained, and temporary unless it is supported by solid Scriptural underpinnings.

Among the other important topics that Jan sorts out and ponders are the sanctified imagination, the role of study in lectio divina, and distinguishing the voice of God from my own mental wool-gathering.

A.W. Tozer said it well:

“[The Bible] is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking . . . If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.”

For those who affirm the truth of this, but find that it is just beyond their present experience,  Meeting God in Scripture is a jumping off point — with a little spring in it — to help students of Scripture become airborne, arcing into a passage, slicing past the surface, and then soaking in the depths of its Truth.

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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 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.

Five Reasons You Should Study Greek

There’s a Greek alphabet tucked into my cookbook shelf, and every so often I bump into it in my search for a recipe.  It’s an apt metaphor for the place and prominence that deep study plays in my every day life — tucked somewhere between the soup and the muffins.  The reappearance of that chart never fails to stir up a tiny pang of regret.  Why didn’t I study Greek back in my college days when I had the opportunity — and the time?

Once outside academic life, it’s nearly impossible to invest the years of study that are required for mastery of a language, so naturally I could not resist reading Dr. A. Chadwick Thornhill’s Greek for Everyone, which promises to focus on a working knowledge of biblical Greek with an emphasis on facilitating in-depth study of the New Testament.  My “what have I gotten myself into?” response at the beginning of chapter one has mellowed to a quiet realization that this is a discipline that will enhance my study.   So with whatever small time I am able to invest, I’m back to the beginning again with the daunting task of learning a new alphabet and phonetic system, but I’m convinced that it will be worth the effort for five reasons:

  1.  A better understanding of New Testament (Koine or common) Greek reveals the reason for many of the differences that appear in our English translations.  Word order in Greek is much more fluid than in English.  Furthermore, Greek prepositions can take on a range of meanings that are narrowed down by paying attention to their objects.  Therefore, differences among translations function as a flare, drawing attention to interpretive issues that deserve special care in our reading and studying.
  2. Words by themselves can easily lead us astray.  The big picture is critical for effective meaning-making, and the Greek language’s tendency to hang multiple supporting clauses off one main clause makes it challenging to identify the main idea of a sentence.  Take Ephesians 1:3-14 for example.  The grammatical structure of this one sentence (yes, one sentence!) in the Greek is completely lost in the English translations, which break it into shorter, more readable sentences, BUT which do not carry forward the flow of thought from the original.  No matter how much time I spend on my alphabet and phonics chart, I’ll never straighten this out on my own.  However, this heightened awareness will make me a more careful reader.
  3. On-line resources for Bible study abound.  Interlinear Bibles, lexicons, parsing aids, and concordances make it possible to study the New Testament with minimal knowledge of Greek, but they also open the door to a fragmented scatter-shot approach to study that results in “dynamite” force blasting forth from every reference to power in the New Testament and leaves well-intentioned preachers loading down words with every possible range of meaning, regardless of context.  Dr. Thornhill offers helpful questions to bear in mind when studying individual words:  What concept is the word intending to invoke here?  What is the significance of using one synonym instead of another?  Am I examining a word that carries “theological weight” in the passage?  What is the possible range of meanings for this word, and are there other terms with similar meaning?
  4. Language is a key factor to understanding the context of the New Testament.  Being a mono-linguistic North American is only one of the biases that I bring to my reading of the Bible.  Dr. Thornhill urges his students to “stand under” a text rather than “standing over it.”  I can’t say this any better than he did:  “We must . . .  allow the text to read us, to reshape our presuppositions and to reform our mind as we read it.”  Amen.
  5. Borrowing a term from Grant Osborn, Dr. Thornhill describes the interpretive process as a “hermeneutic spiral” — a journey more than a destination that is “consistently applied and reapplied as we dive into the deep water of the New Testament.”  An attitude of “epistemic humility (recognizing that we are not omniscient)” explores the background of a text, reads it in context (and even out loud, if possible), compares translations, and then examines lexical, grammatical and syntactical issues in order to develop a tentative description of the passage’s meaning.  Only then are commentaries, books, sermons, and articles consulted to confirm the reader’s conclusions.

A high view of Scripture includes an understanding that “texts do not just have something to say, but they they also have something to do.”  This is the reason we read and study Scripture, and whatever tools we have in our hands, God will use them as they are offered to Him.  For now, in these days of “seeing through a glass darkly,” my knowledge of God will be veiled no matter how much Greek I learn, but it’s nice to know that by pressing into a fuller knowledge of the Bible I can bring those bookends of “already” and “not-yet” a tiny bit closer together, adding to that fuller knowledge with a more faithful doing of the will of God.

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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.”

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 Great Work: Encouragement

“Don’t corral others to meet your needs.”

“Choose to be a servant.”

“Give yourself away.”

If you’re interviewing a guy who wears the title “Chief Encouragement Officer” like a banner, you can expect to hear lots of sentences like these.  Here’s another one:  “The goal is to get small and, in humility, to build others up.”

And any of these could be the mission statement for David “JB” Miller or for the Life Letter Cafe, the on-line ministry he has founded based on the truth that God chooses to invest deeply into the lives of those who pour themselves into others.

With  200+ bloggers sharing their work at The Cafe, it has become a well-spring of encouragement for readers, and, as one of the bloggers,  I can say with certainty that Life Letter Cafe also encourages the writers who share their words in that friendly space.

When I asked David about a favorite Scripture, he immediately shared Proverbs 11:25b:

“Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

This is a principle that reverberates throughout the Bible.  In fact, I checked out Biblical usage of the word “refreshed” using Blue Letter Bible and found it has been used seven times, and it carries the positive sense of being comforted, strengthened, or established.  According to the Old Testament, refreshment can come in various ways:

  • Genesis and the Song of Solomon both speak of food that provides refreshment.
  • In Psalm 68:9, rain refreshes a weary land.
  • Proverbs 3:22 and 25:13 declare that wisdom, discretion, and a trustworthy messenger refresh like snow in the summer or like jewels on a necklace.
  • Then, in the New Testament, Peter the faithful messenger and carrier of wisdom to the recipients of his second letter reminds his readers that he is trying to refresh their memory and to stimulate wholesome thinking.

Food for the soul, wisdom for living, a faithful message, and living water for those who thirst are key to the refreshment provided at Life Letter Cafe, and the ministry is expanding.  In our era of virtual gatherings, naturally there is no brick and mortar involved, and, frankly, I am the last person who should be explaining this expansion because I only just barely understand the back side of my own blog, but here’s the goal:
1.  Rebuild the Life Letter Cafe with the capacity for 500 guest contributors;
2.  Build participation from the current 50 thousand monthly readers to 100 thousand;
3.  Offer several new services and leverage increased influence for the purpose of contributing financially to the rescue of the unborn.

David and his team are still in the early stages of planning and praying their way through this process.  You can read more detail about the project here or explore the SmashFund crowd funding tool that is just now getting underway.

 

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And while you’re busy pondering all this goodness, how is your soul being refreshed these days?

Have you passed the refreshment along to another?

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

 

A Study in Perseverance

Determination perseveres in spite of the word “no.”

When Rosalie Ranquist realized that she was called to be a missionary, her rough background and lack of education led church leaders to discourage her from pursuing her goal.  Even so, in 1967 she left for Papua New Guinea and her career was remarkable in every way — particularly in light of her seemingly inadequate preparation.  Although she is, technically, “retired” now, she continues her involvement as an international literacy consultant on a limited basis, and she still shares her favorite Scripture verse with others:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,”

I Corinthians 15:58

Knowing that Rosalie is facing some health challenges, she and her verse have been on my mind lately, and since I’ve been reading in I Corinthians 15 for the past three weeks, this was the perfect time for me to visit Biblegateway.com for resources that deepen my insight into Rosalie’s verse.

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Since there are thirteen Study Bibles to choose from, I was able to review the verse’s historical context, and also found this insight from John MacArthur:

“The hope of resurrection makes all the efforts and sacrifices in the Lord’s work worth it.  No work done in His name is wasted in light of eternal glory and reward.”

Steadfast, immovable, and abounding are not words that most of us use in everyday speaking, so I was surprised to note how many of the newer translations have stuck with them.  You can check for yourself by clicking on the  I Corinthians 15:58 in all English translations link below the verse.

The NRSV and Amplified Bibles used the word excelling, and the New Living chose outstanding to speak of “abounding in the work of the Lord.”

The Good News Translation used firm and steady for steadfast and immovable, while the International Children’s Bible spoke of being steady and strong.

The Living Bible put some meat on the bones of Paul’s opening “therefore”:

“So, my dear brothers, since future victory is sure, be strong and steady, always abounding in the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever wasted as it would be if there were no resurrection.”

This rendering of the verse anchors it deeply in the big picture of the chapter’s theme:  Resurrection.  A click on the four brown parallel lines beside the reference allowed me to view the entire chapter as needed, for I Corinthians 15 provides the most thorough teaching of any chapter in the Bible on resurrection and the Christian life.

Paul is not offering an empty or theoretical hope.  His admonition toward a steadfast and immovable perseverance on the narrow path —  even when it feels as if the narrow path may be squeezing the life out of you —  is not just a happy thought to keep us company as we endure.  It is a promise of future life that has been verified by the resurrection of God the Son.  Jesus was the “first fruits” of that promise, and based on that, we know that God can deliver the goods.

Resurrection is the bass note that thrums underneath every word that Paul has written in this long and theologically rich chapter, for the truth of resurrection is the basis of a living, breathing, get-up-in-the-morning-and-obey-God-all-day kind of faith.   It is only because God keeps showing up with power that I can war against sin — every day.  He offers freedom from slavery to other people’s approval and from my stubborn need to be “right.”  He brings life to this new creation so that I can find grace to hate the selfishness and small-living that would keep me at the center of my own universe.

Rosalie Ranquist and the truth of her favorite verse serve as a continual reminder to me that nothing is wasted in God’s economy:  our suffering and our service are all infused with meaning because we live in a hope that is based on Truth.

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Check out the resources at Biblegateway.com by using it to enhance your understanding of a passage that you are studying today!

 

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

Wreathed in Contentment

A toddler-sized pair of skates wired to an evergreen spray and adorned with a bow — that’s the best I can do!  But not everyone is craft-challenged like I am, and Sarah O. Maddox has made a practice of hanging a beautiful wreath on the door of her home no matter what the season as a symbol of contentment, a sign that her heart has said yes to the gift of that particular house in that particular location — a sign that her heart has said yes to God.

In You Can Learn to be Content, a book that incorporates both memoir and devotional inspiration, Sarah describes her discovery that she had an uneasy relationship with contentment, and then shares her journey toward living in the light that Isaiah speaks of:

Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.  (Isaiah 50:10)

Hebrews 10:35-38 reminds believers that the root of discontent is a mindset of doubt and fear, admonishing us not to “cast away our confidence” in Him.

While there’s nothing wrong with having an eye for improvement, Sarah shares three common obstacles to contentment that steal our joy:

  1.  Unmet expectations lead to disappointment, frustration, and regret, and “when the circle of regret becomes [our] resting place, contentment flees out the door.”
  2. My response to others gives them power over me.  Poet Fran McDaniel shares this wisdom:  “Choose not to be offended; rather, seek to understand.”
  3. The truth is that “what’s down in the well may come up in the bucket!”  When under pressure and plagued with uncertainty, walking in the way of contentment has to be a conscious choice that comes from within.

From Jehoshaphat’s prayer in the midst of what looked to be a losing battle, Sarah encourages her readers that even when we feel powerless in the battle for contentment, the answer is to look to God for guidance.  Peppered with examples of her own struggles through perplexing circumstances, she shares homely wisdom from her museum of memories:

  • “Because God wants you to trust Him, He will see to it that you have to.”
  • “God:  Vacate and let me occupy.”
  • “A contented woman is not dependent on anyone else for her satisfaction.  She has not made her house, her financial situation, her husband, her children, or her friends slaves of her expectations.”

Psalm 62:5 gives words for the heart of the woman who desires contentment in her bones:

“My soul,
Wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him . . .”

With this wisdom, even in the midst of changing circumstances, the woman who believingly follows Jesus Christ can live with a heart that is wreathed in contentment.

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

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

Excellence — Who, Me?

The wow-factor of my kids’ birthday parties?

The visibility of certain muscle groups in my arms, legs, and torso?

The ease and finesse with which I can entertain a party of twelve, self-publish a book, or create deck furniture from wooden palettes?

Are any of these a worthy means of measuring my excellence?

Not according to Cynthia Heald who challenges all of our preconceptions in the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Becoming a Woman of Excellence.  She examines a biblical concept of excellence like a finely cut gem, turning it to reveal each face and its sparkling qualities:

  • Discipline of the mind, will, emotions, body, and time.
  • Discretion, which is defined as “saying and doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.
  • A Gentle and Quiet Spirit:  an inner beauty that has nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with security in God’s loving sovereignty.
  • Purity, a holiness that arises from a life of abiding in Christ.
  • Wisdom:  Hearing the Word of God and also living it in our every day life.

Cynthia draws from the Old Testament book of Ruth and the woman featured in Proverbs 31 (along with many New Testament passages) to highlight the beauty of excellence.  (Is it possible that Ruth, Solomon’s great-great grandmother, left such a legacy in her family that her memory inspired Solomon to write that famous last chapter of Proverbs?)  Each chapter is an inspiring collection of Scripture, relevant quotes from a wide range of authors, and probing questions to stimulate deeper thinking.

There is a cost to the pursuit of excellence, and a life lived with conviction involves a level of obedience and surrender that does not come naturally.  However, the prize of becoming a woman who fears the LORD and follows Him whole-heartedly is beyond price, and it is a goal well worth pursuing.

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This book was provided by NavPress, in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 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 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.