Musings: January 2019

I’m no physicist, but it would appear that a cannon ball, shot due north from Bangor, Maine on a snowy-cold Saturday morning, could travel unobstructed all the way to the Canadian border. We left home in the dark for a quick visit with much-loved relatives, eight hours round trip, but worth every minute and every mile. We snickered at the green and white signs alerting us that we were nearing T2-R8, and noticed that the wind-sculpted snow alongside Maine’s interstate highway was so undisturbed that we could detect the presence of rodent life, tunneling underneath.

Northern Maine is no longer home to me, but my years there were formative to my understanding of home, as “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Because I have been “taken in” so faithfully in so many places, those words from a Robert Frost poem guide my thinking about the swinging door on this country hill and the bright red door on the church where I worship.

Since Scripture is “a home story,” home figures prominently in the biblical narrative, and God’s work on our behalf becomes an example of welcome and provision–or homemaking! Stability is a spiritual discipline, an opposite to rootlessness,  and it signifies a commitment to make a difference in a specific place and time.  The paradox of the Christian life is this need for full investment, wherever we are, whatever our calling — in stark contrast to the need to also hold it all loosely.

On My Mind

The Adjacent Possible is a principle from biology, but it describes the way we make real progress forward. For example, the invention of the iPhone could not have happened in 1997. However, by 2007, technology was in place for Apple to roll out its new, world-changing invention. It became possible because of the innovations that preceded it.

The concept of The Adjacent Possible has changed the way I approach adding spiritual disciplines and healthful practices to my life. Adjacent means in close proximity. If I am looking for The Adjacent Possible, I stop scanning the horizon for a “eureka” moment and begin looking close by for a small positive step in the right direction.

I didn’t choose a word or make a long list of resolutions for 2019. I want to persevere and be faithful in doing the next right thing. At this point in the year, that includes teaching the preschool Sunday School class. When you are the Sunday School Superintendent in a small church, recruitment is always a challenge, and it sometimes means that you are your own best substitute teacher. Painting murals of “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters,” and imagining Samuel’s anointing of David with a drop of scented oil on our fingers is a pretty terrific way to spend a Sunday morning!

On My Nightstand

Over Christmas vacation, I spotted a couple of Kindle deals on Wendell Berry’s A Place on Earth and A Place in Time, and it’s been a pleasure to re-visit Port William, Kentucky and the World War II-era backdrop that showcases Berry’s exquisite description, character development, and dialogue.

Add to this Paraclete Press’s new fiction release Lights on the Mountain  by Cheryl Anne Tuggle (look for a review of this one in February!) and it’s been a delightful winter of reading a bit of fiction alongside the rest.

On the Screen!

Have I ever recommended a movie or a show here before?
I don’t think so, but with an empty-ing nest, it is occasionally possible to watch a movie that has absolutely no light saber duels, car chases, or endless quests to dispose of a certain piece of jewelry. Recently, the patient husband and I settled down to watch Howard’s End on Amazon Prime Video. The mini-series is based on a novel by E.M. Forster with a quiet and meandering plot, period settings, and delightful British accents. Margaret, the female protagonist, is a force to be reckoned with and models forgiveness, an admirable anchoring in solid values, and an astute understanding of marriage.

Definitely worth a date night or two.
Ice cream optional, but very nice.

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On the Blog

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The Gift of God in Exchange for Ashes

If you are at all familiar with Elisabeth Elliot’s no-nonsense style of teaching and writing the Truth,  Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador will reveal a part of her story that may surprise you!

Adoption and the Journey Toward a Surrendered Heart

Surrendered Hearts: An Adoption Story of Love, Loss, and Learning to Trust is Lori Schumaker’s triumphal and grateful anthem of praise for God’s infinite wisdom in bringing her family together. It is also a story of her family’s yielding to this process even when it involved the dissonance of unmet expectations and grinding disappointment.

An Invitation to the Generative Life

Working from insights gained in his calling as an artist, Makoto Fujimura invites his readers into the generative life, which is “fruitful, originat[es] new life, [and] . . . draws on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life giving.” The Perennial Gen graciously shared my review of Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Speak Up

Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang is challenging me to look carefully at the way I use my words, lending the realization that even my choice to be silent communicates something. Apathy, insecurity, or laziness are not traits I want to “give voice” to, so I’m trusting for courage to lean into a gracious and yet more vocal role in the communities I inhabit.

Standing on the Edge of Inside

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know that I make no secret of the fact that I am an unabashed fan girl of Luci Shaw’s, and her latest collection of poems, Eye of the Beholder (Paraclete Poetry) has only served to heighten my respect for her work.

How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing

Truth from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an anchor to The Main Thing. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life is Carson’s exposition of a well-loved epistle. Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.

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What was a highlight in your January? Are you making plans for 2019? Please share in the comments, and may you know the stillness and peace that come with knowing God,

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I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by sharing products and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the titles listed above simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing

When D.A. Carson had the opportunity to interview two well-known and highly influential American theologians, he went straight to the core of their long ministries with this question:  “You have not succumbed to eccentricity in doctrine, nor to individualistic empire-building. In God’s good grace, what has been instrumental in preserving you in these areas?”

Their reply came with passion:  “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?”

When Jesus chose the humiliating path to the cross, He beat a clear trail for His followers. D.A. Carson issues a call to return to the cross as the main thing in our communication of the gospel. In our relationships, our prayer life, our career goals, and our personal choices, we demonstrate the depth of our commitment to the cross in a way that mere words cannot equal.

Truth from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an anchor to The Main Thing. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life is Carson’s exposition of a well-loved epistle. Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.

The Gospel is the Main Thing

I am often convicted that my conversations and my hospitality look and sound pretty much the same as anyone else’s. While we gather around my dining room table for “fellowship,” we are most likely to be sharing stories about common interests and family news, and I wonder:  Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?

Carson states the goal:

“The fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers.” (21)

The Main Thing About the Gospel is the Cross

Because Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross,” the cross becomes not only a symbol of our following life. It becomes “the supreme standard of our behavior.” (51) Self-denial is not second nature, and it is one thing to say, “I’m willing to be a servant for Christ’s sake,” but quite another thing when someone actually treats us like a servant. Carson employs the word “slave” to describe this and clarifies the self-emptying behavior as Jesus “making himself a nobody” (56)–our greatest fear in this selfie culture!

New believers will benefit from this primer for persistent progress in the faith, but seasoned followers of Christ will find their comfort zone invaded and their notions about Christian leadership and the faithful walk challenged and expanded. Paul’s message is unapologetic and his thinking about contentment, prayer, anxiety, rejoicing, and unity among believers ratchets up the “normal Christian life” to a standard that takes me back to the gospel as the only means by which this following life can be lived. Carson puts his finger on the soure of my dilemma: If I were living faithfully by the standard set forth in Philippians, the Gospel would quickly become the main thing for me as it was for Paul.

Many thanks to BakerBooks for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Rejoicing in Hope,

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Readers looking for more wisdom and biblical insight from D. A. Carson will appreciate his work in Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. You can get a preview in preparation for the Lenten season from my review here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life or Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content 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.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

One Weekend in Jerusalem

Ash Wednesday is following hard on the heels of Groundhog’s Day this year, and while retailers are throwing heart and soul into Valentine’s Day, I find that my heart is more prepared to celebrate Easter if I spend some time during the Lenten season reading about the two historical events that are central to Christianity:   the cross and the empty tomb.  What happened?  What does it all mean?

This year, I have found Scandalous in which D.A.Carson isolates five theologically stunning concepts based on five scriptural passages that integrate the implications of both crucifixion and resurrection:

I.   The Ironies of the Cross — Matthew 27:27-51
Irony, using words that normally mean the opposite of what is actually being said, brings situations into sharp focus, and there were four profound and dramatic ironies at work in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Living, as we do, after the resurrection, we are in a rich position to appreciate and to rejoice in the ironies as we read and reflect:

  • The Man who was mocked as king (robe, crown of thorns) was – and is – the King of kings.
  • The Man who was utterly powerless, holds all the power of heaven and earth.  His weakness became the path to power over death and to the provision of a perfect Temple through becoming the perfect Sacrifice for the people of God.
  • The Man who “could not” save Himself, saved others.  The mocking words of the chief priest, scribes, and elders were truer than they knew.
  • The Man who cried out in despair, trusted God.  In fact, He was quoting Psalm 22 in His dying agony, and, once again, His persecutors spoke more wisdom than they realized.  The torn curtain that opened access to the presence of God for humanity was the result of Jesus’ crushing experience of God’s absence.

II.  The Truth of Human Desperation — Romans 3:21-26
In our post-“I’m-O.K.-You’re-O.K” era, this may well be the most inexplicable of all Christian doctrines, for we are a tolerant generation in which “the one wrong thing to say is that somebody else is wrong.”  However, the truth is that we are offenders before God and in need of reconciliation which Jesus provided, preserving the justice of God while justifying the ungodly.

III.  The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb — Revelation 12
In this apocalyptic reenactment of the Christmas story, the Red Dragon rages over the truth that a deliverer has come forth from the Messianic community, and, therefore, his demise is certain.  The past 2,000 years of martyrdom and persecution are the thrashing of the doomed dragon’s tail, while, in the meantime, the gospel advances through believers who are bearing witness to Christ, through the blood of the cross, and through the realization that life in Christ “is a call to die to self-interest,” (Revelation 12:11).

IV.  A Miracle Full of Surprises — John 11:1-53
The juxtaposition of death and life in Bethany reveals that God is always full of surprises.  Jesus’ dealings with the dead man’s sisters is foreshadowed in His response to the disciples when He receives their summons:  “This sickness will not end in death,”  (11:4).  The purpose of the miracle had nothing to do with death or even with life, but instead, God’s glory was put on display.  Of course, this is not clear to anyone at the time, and it only becomes clear to us if we take a minute to realize that Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus put Him in the crosshairs of those who were plotting to remove Him from the scene.

I am constantly in need of reminders that I can trust God’s delays as much as I trust His action, and that the best consolation for my grief is to turn my attention to Christ.  Jesus models a perfect response to grief, death and disappointment:  tears and outrage.  The final surprise in this miracle is the surrender of the Life-giver to death so that life may finally win.

V.   Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus — John 20:24-31
After an analysis of six forms of doubt, D.A. Carson enters into the cognitive dissonance that accompanied a crucified messiah.  The fallout of that all-important weekend in Jerusalem, at least from the disciples’ viewpoint, was disappointment and despair.  Therefore, the second Sunday after the resurrection, Thomas is still determined not to be taken in by rumors of a living Jesus.  His utterance of faith, “My Lord and my God!” is part of the “these” that were written so that we who only read of Christ’s resurrection may also believe.

Recalling this scene behind the locked doors of the upper room, poet Edward Shillito underscores the importance of the wounds that testified to Thomas:

“If when the doors are shut, thou drawest near,
Only reveal thy hands, that side of thine.
We know today what wounds are, never fear:
Show us thy wounds:  we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak.
They rode, but thou didst stumble to thy throne.
And to our wounds, only God’s wounds can speak —

And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

May the outcome of all our ponderings during this season of Lent be a stronger belief in the resurrection and a deeper following of our wounded God.


This book was provided by Crossway 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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