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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Love and Truth Made Visible

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

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

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

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

A Woman Under Control

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

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

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

A Woman Under Her Roof

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about Adorned, about the Revive Our Hearts Adorned event, or to join a Facebook discussion group based on the book, visit the Adorned website.

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

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Is It Possible to Overcome Worry?

It has been said that “imagination” is the 21st-century equivalent to the scriptural word “heart,” the center of emotion and intellect in biblical physiology.  That may well be true, for many times it is my imagination that causes me to run aground in this following life.  As if there were not enough stressful events going on in the world around me, I waste my time pushing past the present and into “what if” territory.  Dr. Winfred Neely, with the help of the Apostle Paul, offers words for the worry epidemic that plagues our anxious world.

Ironically, for those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, worry goes beyond the vexing footfalls of a sleep thief, and stomps into the room as a perplexing theological ogre, for if I believe in the sovereignty of God, the burning question is:  Can God be counted on to protect me and the people I love from harm?

Obviously bad things happen to good people on this broken ground, and we wonder How to Overcome Worry when so often the ways of God are “shrouded in mystery.”  “Anxiety can reside in virtually every nook and cranny of human experience,” and yet the Apostle’s directive in Philippians 4 is clear:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Paul had every reason to worry.  He was writing from prison, and the Roman Empire was in the grip of the sadistic (and probably insane) Emperor Nero — an unlikely source of justice.  Did Paul have the ability to simply turn his worries off like a faucet?  Was he living on an ethereal, apostolic plane, completely indifferent to his surroundings?

Dr. Neely defines Paul’s use of the word “anxious” as “concern turned inward and deformed, divorced from the grace of God and rooted in unhealthy fear.”  He offers the encouraging insight that it is possible to be deeply engaged with the people and events of our lives and yet to be free from the vice of habitual worry.

If you struggle with worrying, you will also benefit (as I have) from these practical principles for experiencing the peace of God:

*** It goes without saying (nonetheless, I will say it) that clinical anxiety is a medical condition and if you suffer from this affliction, the advice offered in this book will not be relevant to that specific situation.  Dr. Neely is concerned with “anxiety as worry rooted in unbelief.”  ***

“God is commanding us to look to Him instead of turning from Him. 

Armed with the truth that anxiety is a choice, we conquer worry by taking everything to the Lord in prayer.

If Paul’s insistence that prayer is the antidote to worry seems like thin gruel and weak coffee to me, then I must examine my understanding and experience of prayer and the presence of God.  This 1961 quote from A.W. Tozer is true of my 2017 heart:

“Where sacred writers saw God, we see laws of nature.  Their world was fully populated; ours is all but empty.   Their world was alive and personal; ours is impersonal and dead.  God ruled their world; ours is ruled by the laws of nature, and we are always once removed from the presence of God.”

“Paul uses different terms for the different aspects of conversing with God.”

The words “supplication,” “thanksgiving,” and “requests” reveal facets of prayer that get at our neediness, the recognition that God has worked and will continue to work on our behalf, and that a right response to anxiety is to identify the thing we need and to take that need to God in prayer.  Dr. Neely examines the “asking, seeking and knocking” life as a condition of continuous and habitual expectation of answers and intervention from God.  It is a precious reminder that we bring our anxieties to God because we live in company with Him — not because He needs information (or my advice on how to solve the problem!).

“Worry is overcome by expecting peace from God.”

I will admit that I would prefer to get peace from circumstances that suit me:  a car that never needs repair, a calendar with no surprise entries, and a family that is not subject to any distressing events.  Instead, Paul points to a subversive way of life that short circuits my preoccupation with circumstances.  He did not wish away his prison cell as a condition for experiencing the peace of God, but saw the anxiety-inducing circumstance of imprisonment as a teachable moment in the school of trust.  He took from God a variety of peace that is not available elsewhere and which flows from the very character of God Himself:

“Since God is omnipotent, His peace is an all-powerful peace.  Since God is eternal, His peace is without beginning or end.  Since God is infinite, His peace is limitless.  Since God is holy, His peace is pure.”

Peace is an “apologetic.”

Trusting God in spite of anxiety-laced circumstances puts the power of God on display.  This in itself is a huge motivation to live in light of the truth of Philippians 4:6,7, and the practical truth offered in How to Overcome Worry is neither new nor earth-shattering.  Dr. Neely prescribes active meditation upon the truth of God’s Word so that it penetrates our mind and our emotions (and I would add:  our imagination!).  Instead of shoving aside troubling thoughts with a scroll through Facebook or a comforting snack, what would happen if we consciously placed those thoughts before God and put ourselves at His disposal?  Is it possible that we, like the Apostle Paul, would find His grace to be sufficient, if our worst case scenario came true?

How to Overcome Worry is not, in itself, a solution to the problem of anxiety in the life of the believer, but it is a helpful signpost, pointing the way to the promises of Scripture which are based upon the character of God.  It is a counter-cultural call to the peace that comes with both the acceptance of present circumstances and trust for a future that lies in the hands of a sovereign God.

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

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.

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 Freedom is in the Falling

Because I’m a planner, I carry a planner, but the truth is that my planner carries me.  All pristine and un-besmirched, the 2017 edition holds out the promise of glorious accomplishment and blessed organization in a life that often feels like spinning plates and chaos management.  Shannan Martin started her marriage and motherhood in much the same way.  Plan-the-work-and-work-the-plan as a way of life had secured for her and her husband their dream farm with a cute little family and a life that had all the trappings of security.  In a journey that began with the hunch that God might be leading them to move — literally — outside their comfort zone, the Martins said good-bye to predictability and hello to an address that had always seemed to them like “the wrong side of the tracks.”

Memoir meets manifesto in Falling Free, for Shannan not only shares her story, but also describes the safety she found in risk and the stunning realization that when we say, “God is all I need,” we may be asked to make good on those words.   The Martins’ income plummeted to make space for ministry in a life that became centered around a community that included a struggling public school and a circle of friends who had done jail time, who struggled with addictions, and who continually battled poverty.

It is no understatement to say that Falling Free challenged some of the assumptions and guiding principles of this homeschooling mum who can just barely see the smoke from her neighbor’s chimney. Reading about Shannan’s “rescue from the life she always wanted” allowed me to consider some fairly uncomfortable concepts:

  • God reserves the right to do the unexpected and to move His people in unlikely directions.  He is unpredictable and has not “settled down” since Old Testament times.
  • True family transcends DNA and mirrors the welcome that God extends in the gospel.
  • It’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there.”  For North American Christians, our stuff is a serious obstacle to living an authentic Christian life.
  • Our most valuable offering to those in need is our “good standing.”  One of the greatest needs of the poor is a future: a way to secure employment, stability, and a permanent address.
  • Missional living makes for missional parenting and produces missional kids.  If God calls a believer to ministry in an area with failing schools, He is asking her to trust Him with her children’s education.

It was delightful to read about Shannan and her family bonding with their newly adopted community around plates of pasta and garlic bread (often well-done).  She testifies to the efficacy of the “unfancy dinner table” and to this stunning truth:

“If community is the heartbeat of the gospel, hospitality is the hand that opens the door and waves it in.”

Falling Free unpacks the biblical image of Jesus “moving into the neighborhood” by first inviting readers to picture someone on the lowest rung of their social ladder — a homeless, meth-addict, for instance.  Shannan first nails the pity and lack of respect that I would feel toward her — and then suggests that my trading lives with that addict would not even begin to approach the utter humiliation of the incarnation.  Embracing my own smallness is more than a matter of having less.  It is about being less, like Jesus, when He “took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” — less, last, and ordinary.

In a culture that encourages all of us precious believing snowflakes to “shop” for our “perfect church” that “meets our needs,” Shannan reminds her readers that the Kingdom of God is full of surprises.  God may ask us to sink our roots deep into a community that wounds us and exacts a deep cost to our souls while satisfying nothing on our personal wish list.  This is Jesus’ invitation, made explicit in the Beatitudes, but inexplicable to my preferred business plan that’s built around “blessed are the sensible and those who serve dinner on time.”

Not everyone will be called to join the Martin family in the weightless free fall, but the principles that guided their choices and the insights they gained in the process are choreography for my own choices and priorities in this world where I am called to dance the love and the life of Christ.

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This book was provided by Thomas Nelson 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.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

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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.

Grateful Parents: Grateful Kids

Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m taking a blogging break in honor of my favorite holiday, but I hope you’ll be inspired by these words about gratitude and parenting from a book review that I shared some time ago.


Finally, about ten years ago, the light began to dawn, and you can’t imagine how disappointed I was.  I realized that parenting is not a cause and effect proposition.  It’s not a vending machine in which I insert my actions (seizing teachable moments, training in character, consistency in discipline) and then am rewarded by equal and corresponding reactions (obedience, respect, good behavior).

I’m a slow learner, so this was earth-shattering for me, but . . .

Having said that, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch reminds me that if I want my children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, I had better be modeling the right heart attitude myself.

In the Great Balancing Act called parenting, we are at war against three words:  “Is that all?”  In ourselves, in our kids, Western culture exacerbates our entrenched selfishness in everything from “ice cream servings to allowances.”  “Enough” is never enough.

Kristen is writing from the trenches of raising three kids, and so the tone of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World is NOT “we have arrived and here’s how your kids can ooze gratitude like our perfect children do.”  She comes alongside her readers with humble offerings:  “Here’s what we’re doing.  Here’s what others have tried, and that’s great, too.”  Kristen’s perspective is derived from the knowledge that parents who are willing to fight against the prevailing culture and for an attitude of thankfulness in their children will feel as if they are swimming upstream.

My oldest son talked early — and often — so I can still hear his husky toddler voice saying, “There’s a difference between a need and a want.”  To me!  Even so, one need that is common to all kids is their parents’ love, and ironically, in our culture of possessions and privileges, it is common to find children who are sadly lacking in that need while every want is speedily fulfilled.

No one sets out with a goal of “spoiling” her children, but little daily choices that arise from incorrect thinking accomplish the task over time.  Kristen unmasks some of these:

  1.  We want our kids to be our friends.
  2.  We’re afraid to say no because of the fallout (slammed doors, tears, eye rolling, shouting).
  3. We feel guilty about our circumstances and try to compensate with permissiveness.
  4. We are busy.  We eat fast food on the way to one of Junior’s three different soccer league practices, take on an extra job to pay for a Disneyland vacation, and don’t have time for the slow work of eyeball to eyeball interaction in which we pass on our values.
  5. We don’t want them to fail, so we make things “easy” for them.
  6. We don’t want them to feel left out, so we cave to the “everyone else” argument.
  7. We don’t want them to be unhappy.

It is not for nothing, then, that Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World provides an end-of-each-chapter assortment of age-related hints for going against the flow.

For parents:

“Put a plan in place.  Decide in advance what you will say ‘yes’ to.”

For toddlers:

“Make cookies together.  You may eat one for your effort, and then give the rest away to brighten someone’s day.  Teach your children that we don’t have to keep everything for ourselves.”

For elementary age:

“Clean out closets and drawers, and instead of giving away only things that they won’t miss, urge your kids to include something they really love to share with someone else.”

For tweens/teens:

“It may seem to your son or daughter as if she’s the only one in her class or he’s the only one in his grade or on this planet who isn’t fitting in or keeping up.  But if we are going to compare ourselves to others, let’s also compare ourselves to kids who live in poverty.”

The award for most practical feature goes to the chapter called “Making Smart Choices about Technology” with its related idea of a cell phone contract.

Central to all this intentionality and hard work is the goal of  introducing kids to the freedom of self-discipline; to the security that comes from seeing parents follow through on their principles; and the self-confidence that can only come to kids who have been allowed to “struggle” a bit and then to solve their own problem before a parent comes swooping in to rob them of the privilege.  We must love our children enough to make the hard choices that lead to a lifestyle of gratitude.

This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishing,  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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Ten Thousand Truths

In my gratitude journal, you will not find the words “back pain” or “dead air conditioner in the mini-van.”  And even though I have read (and re-read) the Beatitudes, I am in a season of mourning deeply over the advancing dementia of a dear friend — and I’m not feeling the least bit blessed by it.

Clearly, my perspective needs adjusting, and, according to author Mark Yaconelli, I am not alone.  As a society, we are intolerant of anything that reminds us that we are not in control, and, instead of viewing failure, disappointment, loss, or frustration as gifts which open our hearts to the caring ministry of others and the heightened spiritual insights that come from a closer following, we become disoriented, cynical, shame-filled, or resentful toward our difficulties.

Even so, The Gift of Hard Things with its gritty and delightful truth-telling makes no claim to spiritual alchemy — there are no magical words that will convert suffering into joy.  Even so,  Yaconelli’s  stories offer a thin place where the gap between my desire to avoid suffering at all cost and God’s desire to use it to deepen my capacity for love and generosity stops feeling so wildly uncrossable.

I was captivated by Mark’s prayer service disaster story:  his careful preparation, his thoughtful attention to every detail, and his thorough marketing of the new campus ministry.  How could it be that not one college student — not one! — ever attended that service?  The disappointment of a ministry-crash-and-burn flies in the face of all my pat answers about God.  Mark’s too:

“Deep down, we believe if we pray, follow the Ten Commandments, and work hard, God will grant us a successful life.”

He admits,”My life has never matched my expectations,” and even though the prayer service continues three years later (sans college students), the experience was primarily a lesson in spiritual poverty and an invitation to examine his expectations for their source:  culture? family? personal need?  It is only through a long re-learning that we may begin to sit in gratitude for what has been given, but it is the path away from disappointment and resentment.

Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century social reformer, wrote:

“God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.”

Without a doubt, a goodly portion of God’s ten thousand truths come in the form of suffering.  I miss the point of the song He is trying to sing into my life when I concentrate on simply getting through the trial without looking for the lyrics of healing that are carried on the melody of affliction.  The aim of The Gift of Hard Things is for readers to find in the gift of difficult people, in the blessing of disappointment, or in the bracing realization of our own brokenness the reality of being met in the midst of that frailty with a strength that is not our own.  It is only in this strength that I am able to rejoice in the truth that God is fluent in the language of lament.  His psalm-singers have given us the lyrics, and the human condition provides the material.  By faith, we add our stories to the narrative flow, and by grace we are used of God to reveal that the very things that catch us off guard have actually been placed in our path with a purpose.

In choosing to believe the truth of this, my story is altered, because even when my circumstances careen out of control, I still get to choose “whether [my] helplessness draws [me] toward or away from prayer.”  Mark goes on to say that we get to “choose whether our grief deepens our empathy or sours us into resentment.  We get to choose whether to allow the difficulties we have suffered to break or expand us.”  With this wisdom, I am encouraged to point my divining rod toward Hope, and to hang on for the journey of discovering grace where I least expect it.

//

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.”

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