February Musings — 2017

What February lacks in length, it has more than offset with depth — of SNOW and MUD! No sooner do we shovel our way through two feet of fluffy beauty, than the sun comes out and melts it all, turning the world into chocolate pudding!  It’s almost as if God is telling us to slow down — to stay home and enjoy these days of crazy boys and middle-aged marriage.  And so we have — with joy!

On My Desk

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It’s been great to get the women’s Sunday School class started up again at my wonderful church home.  We have been using Jen Wilkin’s study in I Peter, and it’s really keeping us on our toes with homework and a persistent (and important) reminder that we need to stay close to the text, reading repetitively and in context.  What that boils down to is at least one trip through all five chapters of I Peter each week, lots of marking up the text in our search for repetitive words and big picture concepts, and regular use of the dictionary (or Siri) for deeper understanding of the words Peter chose for his letter to all of us “elect exiles.”  I reviewed Jen’s book last spring and couldn’t wait to use it in real life with my friends who join me around the table each week.  The study is every bit as challenging and helpful as I thought it would be.

Vacation Bible School veterans will not be surprised to hear that I’m sorting through curricula and staffing for this summer’s ministry to kids, and so I’m wondering . . . what’s everyone else doing for summer ministry in 2017?

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Somehow I missed taking Economics in high school and college, so, in this third round of teaching a high school senior here at home, I’m switching gears, leaving our curriculum behind, and reading a book in tandem with my big, brown-eyed boy.  Emily Whitten has been sharing one classic book per month on World Radio, and her suggestion of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics has been just what I needed to bring the theory and the charts and graphs and specialized vocabulary into real world application for my future welder (and for this present day domestic diva!).  You can listen along here.

 

On the Blog

One of the lovely benefits of blogging has been all the new friendships I’ve made with other bloggers — and every once in a while, one of those friends writes a book, and I get to review it here at Living Our Days.  When my friend Mary Geisen wrote Brave Faith, she dipped her brush into the lives of inspiring biblical characters and shared their stories alongside her own journey of moving outside her comfort zone and into the soul-enriching pilgrimage toward living brave.

Another blogging friend, Holly Barrett, invited me to join her on her weekly podcast, and the program aired on February 3.  Click here to listen in to the fun conversation as we chatted about family, books, and living this following life in pursuit of wisdom.  You can subscribe to her podcast here.

The dialogue at SheLoves Magazine is always lively and uplifting, and I was thankful to share a reflection on my mid-winter canning jars and the truth that the container is secondary to the contents.  It’s good new that my emptiness is an invitation for God to pour His fullness into me—whatever my assignment for 2017.  You can read more here, and be reminded of the Apostle Paul’s testimony that God met him faithfully in the midst of his own deep need.

The most-read post at Living Our Days for the month of February was my review of Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson.  Using metaphors as earthy as our clay-based bodies, Hannah cooperates with the Word of God to reveal that the quality of life we most desire will not come to us through power or reason or productivity or any number of quick fixes, but, rather, through roots that are sunk deeply into a theology of need and answering grace — and a humble acceptance of a life that is lived close to the ground.

And, unbelievably, for those of us who are reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, we have only two more weeks left in our discussion group!  The book was already my favorite of Lewis’s fiction, and now I’m blessed by the great insights that have come from other readers through this group experience.  As we begin Part II, Orual realizes, “I must unroll my book again.”  We’ll be joining her in the process of sorting out the threads of her tangled memory.

Just for Joy

We did it!
The women’s fellowship at my church planned and executed a Family Valentine’s Celebration including a lovely dinner and a fun and wacky program.  We started brainstorming waaaaay back in November, and it’s encouraging to see what a small group of women can accomplish together as we celebrate our ministry to women and work toward greater opportunities and initiative for ministry by women.

captureThanks for meeting with me once again here at month’s end.  I am blessed by your generosity of spirit as you read, share your comments, and invite others from your circles into our conversation.

The beautiful and poetic words about snow in the image above come from Luci Shaw’s “Light Gathering, January” taken from her collection of poems What the Light Was Like.

Be sure to join me over at Leigh Kramer’s place where many of us gather at month’s end to share What We’re Into.

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Toward a Theology of Reverence and Awe

It is staggering to think that the life of faith is really an invitation to share in the nature of God.  He is holy, and he calls the believer to a life of holiness, providing the means and the might to make it happen.  He is loving, and He pours His love through us in surprising ways.  He is just, merciful, gracious, and wise — and the list could grow very long, but — miraculously — it is a list that the believer can grow into by walking in obedience to the commands of God through the power of the Spirit of God within.

In None Like Him, Jen Wilkin ponders another list of God’s attributes:  the ones in which humans are not invited to share, and which, by their very nature, can be true only of God.  She examines ten of these traits, helping her readers to appreciate the uniqueness of God while at the same time disclosing the startling truth that, like our ancestor Eve, we are still in the family business of aspiring to become like God.  The challenge for us, then, is to aspire to be more like our Heavenly Father without seeking to usurp His position!

Only God is infinite.

He cannot be measured, and He has no  limits or boundaries.  Job 11:7-9 finds even the vast heavens and the broad seas are not not up to the job of demonstrating the infinitude of God’s greatness.

A right response to an immeasurable God is celebration of our own God-ordained limits.  They teach us the fear of the Lord and remind us that we are not meant to be “like God in His unlimited divinity; we are to be like God in our limited humanity.  Image bearing means becoming fully human, not becoming divine.”

Only God is incomprehensible.

A life time of searching the Scriptures will not uncover all that there is to know about God — and yet He is able to be “sufficiently known.”  By contrast, we humans are knowable and known by a Creator whose expertise (expressed in Psalm 139:1-6) surpasses even our own self-knowledge.

Believing that only God is an expert on human nature relieves me of the “responsibility” for judging my neighbor’s faults, allowing me to bring my own faults to the God who understands my nature and invites me into a life-long exploration of His limitless perfection.

Only God is self-sufficient.

Acts 17:24-25 makes the critical connection between God’s creative power and His absolute independence from His creation.  This is a cause for rejoicing, for since God has no needs, He cannot be tempted by anything.  On the other hand, our needs are many and urgent.  Although we have been bent and broken by the fall, this state of dependence is not an outcome of our fallenness.  Adam and Eve were created to need God and his provision.  Ironically, it is when we view need as a flaw and suppress our humanity (again, striving to be God), we go without necessary rest, “starve ourselves to a size 2,” and practice saying “I’m fine” in front of the mirror until we believe it ourselves.

Divine self-sufficiency is a given.  Human attempts to masquerade as self-sufficient lead to prayerlessness, forgetfulness of God’s provision, anger at our limitations, side stepping the conviction of the Holy Spirit when we sin, and refusing help from brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Only God is eternal.

Time binds us like cords.  It chafes against our do-list and keeps us in continual catch-up mode.  Even our preferences and manner of life are time bound to the era that we call home.  God, on the other hand, transcends time — even book-ending it!  Like Gandalf, he is “never late, nor is He early.”  His actions occur precisely when he intends for them to.

Even so, we arrogate to ourselves the grasping irony of putting God on a deadline rather than honoring this attribute by trusting Him.  We demonstrate this trust by letting go of the past, leaving the future with Him, and living fully in the moment.  Viewing time as a gift from the God who owns time results in days that are lived well with a priority on relationships over possessions and with a prayer on our lips that God would “establish the work of our hands.”

Only God is immutable.

When the Psalms refer to God as our rock over twenty times, the biblically fluent will take comfort in this imagery of changelessness.  There is much to ponder here, even in regard to His attributes, for nothing we do can add to or diminish His glory.  God will never be more holy or less faithful than He has ever been.  This is good news, for He has set His love upon us, and this, too, is unchangeable.

As creatures, however, we are subject to continuous change, and my own particular discomfort with this established truth reveals in me a serial idolatry, fixed upon whatever condition or person that is in flux:  “I need YOU to be God for me, so please just stay the same.”

Our species’ tendency to usurp God’s place is, I believe, most prevalent in this sentence about change:  “That’s just who I am.  I can’t change.”  Jen Wilkin summarizes the situation:

“Just as my assurance of salvation rests in the fact that God cannot change, my hope of sanctification rests in the fact that I can.”

Only God is omnipresent.

It stretches the mind to conceive of God’s uncontainable nature.  He’s “not engaged in some cosmic game of Twister, trying to stretch Himself between an infinite number of locations,” and yet He is fully present in all places past, present, and future.  Although He fills all of creation and is near to us in every sense, he is distinct from His creation.

As one of His creation, I hunger for this combination of immanence and transcendence — and technology can even give me the illusion of it. Jen calls it “makeshift omnipresence” — this addiction we have to multitasking and efficiency that would keep me from ever having a face-to-face conversation with my boys or entering fully into any one task or event.

Only God is omniscient.

It follows that since God is everywhere, He is able to know everything.  He did not learn what He knows — and unlike me, He will not forget it. It would be a long pondering to even begin to appreciate the implications of God’s all-knowing, but, once again, technology is helping me to chase after this off-limits-to-humans attribute with an “all-you-can-eat buffet” of data, trivia, inspiration, and drivel.  Research shows that we suffer from information overload, but this unhealthy desire for unlimited knowledge goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and Solomon saw the tie between endless consumption and weariness.

Honoring the omniscience of God fleshes itself out in an acceptance of His perfect way (Ps. 18:30); a refusal to bargain with Him or to try to fool Him.  When I view the myth of human omniscience through the lens of Truth, I can conclude that “because God holds all knowledge, I don’t have to.”

Only God is omnipotent.

Job’s ultimate acceptance of the will of God was based upon his acknowledgement of God’s power.  Creating and sustaining all things, His power is infinite.  Humanity attempts to wield our own versions of power based upon physical strength, beauty, charisma, or wealth only to find that we are in the power of these forces.  In the end, it is God’s power at work in us that will bring about the transformation and security that we seek.

Only God is sovereign.

While the previous attributes focused on God’s ability to act, His sovereignty asserts that God is unlimited in His authority to act.  The only sensible conclusion that we can draw from our consideration of God’s nature is that “the most right and logical place for God to inhabit is a throne.” It goes without saying that the essence of our sin nature is to question and to attempt to usurp the sovereignty of God.  We doubt His motives; we crave control.

Ironically, the myth of human sovereignty leads some to the pursuit of an impossibly perfect and ageless body, an obsessive accumulation and maintenance of possessions, controlling relationships and a spirit of legalism.  It is far better to honor God by accepting His delegated authority in areas which are mine to control:  my thoughts, my attitude, my words, and my actions.

The tremendous amount of theology that permeates None Like Him is certain to inoculate the reader’s heart against the disease of awe-lessness.  Each chapter begins with a creative hook that anchors the truth into a concrete foundation:  the unchanging reference point of mountains on the horizon leads the mind into thoughts about God’s immutability; the pink-fuzzy Energizer bunny demonstrates our quest for the perpetual energy source; fear of tornadoes reveals our uneasy relationship with the raw and unpredictable power of nature.

I am planning to use this book as a guide in teaching the kids in my weekly Sunday School opening exercises one lesson per week on the attributes of God, because I believe the material is that accessible.  (And, like Madeleine L’Engle, I believe that if information is “too difficult for grown ups,” then you teach it to children.)

Also, committing this list of ten attributes to memory is a faith-building and awe-generating exercise that will enhance God-focused prayer.  Considering these truths in light of the incarnation brings into focus the stunning sacrifice of God the Son who was suddenly subject to the full range of human needs and limitations.  Embracing those limitations and acknowledging their ultimate opposite in the God-head cannot help but lead to a new appreciation and joy, fear and awe of the God we worship.

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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.”

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.

 

 

Just One Thing: Story Arc

I have a tendency to get stuck in time.  It was true when I was single; it has been true of my days as a parent; it is true when my back flares up or when I am sick.  I believe — falsely — that whatever is going on at the moment is insurmountable and eternal.  The sleepless haze of new motherhood, the sleepless haze of eleven o’clock teen curfews, whatever the obstacle, my default reaction seems to be obtuse tunnel vision.

This was not the case with Nehemiah.   When he learned that the walls around Jerusalem were, once again, demolished, he reacted emotionally (“I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days . . ” 1:4), but then he began decisive action.  He was able to act effectively because he understood his present situation (and that of Jerusalem) in light of the bigger story arc which encompasses all the lesser stories of the Bible:  God redeeming his people and restoring His world.  In her excellent book Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin refers to this as the metanarrative: “the comprehensive explanation or guiding theme that illumines all other themes in a text.  A metanarrative is essentially a story about stories, encompassing and explaining the ‘little stories’ it overarches.”

How much of God’s  metanarrative of creation-fall-redemption-restoration did Nehemiah comprehend as he fasted and prayed for guidance in Shushan?  Enough to turn God’s promises to the Israelites into a trajectory of prayer that lasted around 16 weeks (from the Hebrew calendar’s month of Chislev to the month of Nisan).  Enough to interpret his present problem in light of the bigger problem.  Although Nehemiah was a Jew, he was, in all probability, born in Persia and had lived his days in the shadow of King Artaxerxe’s citadel.  His display of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem would not have been because he had fond boyhood memories of Israel’s kingdom days, but, instead, because he had tender heart toward God’s agenda.  The promise of God to restore the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 25:11,2; 29:10-14) was being thwarted once again.  The building project had been halted because of the political ax-grinding of evil men.

Hearing of this crisis in Jerusalem, Nehemiah chose to risk his safe position as the king’s trusted servant (1:11)and to leave the comfort of the palace in Shushan for a thousand mile journey and a new life in a war-zone.  Like Joseph and Esther before him, he recognized that he was in his present position for “such a time as this.”  Because he had interpreted events in light of the main theme, he would have realized that the walls around Jerusalem were necessary in order for there to be a distinct people of God.  It is doubtful that he would have known that God had an individual in mind, an individual who would be raised as a Jew so that he could become the ultimate Priest and King over Israel.  The restoration of Jerusalem as a political entity was just part of the great story arc (metanarrative) which would climax with the coming of Messiah.

With this in mind, I am challenged to interpret my own circumstances in light of a bigger picture.  What presents itself to me minute by minute is rarely my deepest, truest need.  Recognizing that God has complete freedom to do his big-picture plan, we can join Nehemiah in his God-centered prayer.

“Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, lease let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night . . .”

And so, the real story begins.

(For further study, refer to Kelly Minter’s Nehemiah study guide, Kathy Keller’s address to the Gospel Coalition conference 2014 . . . or join us at Spruce Head Community Church for my Sunday School class on the book of Nehemiah!)

Essential for Teachers and for Learners

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin:  A Book Review

I can’t recall the last time I devoured a book in one evening, but that’s what happened with Women of the Word.  I’m sure the reason is Jen Wilkin’s laser focus on the topics that (after my family) are most important to me — knowing the Bible and teaching the Bible.  I found the book to be immediately relevant and useful, not only in my teaching ministry, but also in my personal study.

Be advised that Jen Wilkin is not putting forth something that is earth-shatteringly new.  If she were, you shouldn’t read the book, because, truly, the only way to know, understand, and apply the Bible is to, well . . . read it.  This is what makes Women of the Word intensely practical:  Jen Wilkin acknowledges that studying the Bible takes time, that it is possible the reader will not understand it immediately, and that it requires significant effort.  She also makes an airtight case for the fact that reading and studying the Bible is worth all the effort one expends!

Most people come to the Bible with two wrong assumptions:  (1)It’s all about me; (2)I want God to speak to my heart.  Women of the Word argues for a one hundred eighty degree change of focus:  (1)Let the Bible speak of God; (2)Let the mind transform the heart.

After a thorough argument for Biblical literacy, Jen Wilkin sets forth a very helpful guideline for achieving that very thing.

1.  Study with Purpose — View all of Scripture in light of the big-picture redemptive story arc that transcends all the “small stories.”

2.  Study with Perspective — Understand the author, his context, his audience, his purpose, and his style/genre.

3.  Study with Patience — Allow yourself to sit in the uncomfortable seat of “I don’t know,”  before consulting commentaries.

4.  Study with Process — Ask yourself three questions:  What does it say?  What does it mean?  What is God saying to me about change?

5.  Study with Prayer — Always.  Pray about purpose; pray about perspective; pray for patience; make prayer part of the process.  Always.

The author proceeds to demonstrate this approach with a study of James 1, and then concludes with an entire chapter of helpful guidelines for teachers.  I found this to be the most valuable section of the book (and the reason I stayed up past my bedtime!), because it felt like sitting down with someone who loves to teach and hearing her heart.

I am very excited about applying the concepts of this book, and, specifically, have been challenged to hold off on the commentaries, make better use of cross references, and to start providing printed pages of the text to my class so we can mark them up together.  Goal for the near future:  writing weekly homework questions to guide my students’ reading assignment.

Women of the Word will continue to serve as a reference for me, and I recommend it to teachers and learners who want to sharpen their ability to hear God speak to them from His Word.

Disclosure:  I received this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.