The Spiritual Practice of Curiosity

Part of the delight of spending time with my tiny grandson is that he takes nothing for granted.
Nothing.
“Bam, why bubble pop?”
“Because you stood on it.”
“Why?”
Well, good question.  Why indeed, but our conversations routinely run on in this vein of relentless curiosity.  They move forward not because “Bam” comes up with anything like satisfactory answers, but because the two-year-old mind has jumped the rails to a new topic.

Historically, the church has an uneasy relationship with curiosity, beginning with the Son of God Himself receiving flack throughout His earthly ministry from the anti-questioning party in power at that time.  Casey Tygrett invites Jesus’ present-day followers back into the spiritual practice of Becoming Curious, beckoning readers into the tension that holds opposing concepts in a space that waits for answers from all the multitude of possibilities.

Risk and Tension

Jesus, the “whole and beautiful,” jumped into the mess of a broken-down world and created tension galore, so it should not surprise us when our own risky ponderings lead us into uncomfortable territory.  Jesus’ twelve “learners” were continually yanked into a right understanding of all they did not know by Jesus’ search-light words:

“What do you want me to do for you?”  

  • Posed to James and John (Mark 10:35,36) when they were gunning for the corner office;
  • Posed to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47-52) the blind beggar who made a ruckus and sought healing.

It’s startling to see the question posed in both settings (Had you noticed it before?  I hadn’t.), but regardless of their initial intent in coming to Jesus, His unexpected question certainly let them know that they were in for more than they had expected.

The Critical Questions

Throughout the book, Casey Tygrett repeatedly argues for the utter necessity of curiosity for our spiritual formation.  When Jesus probed the disciples (Mark 16:15) for their interpretation of His identity, it was certainly not because He was unclear on this point.  The truth for 1st-century and for 21st-century learners is that our answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” defines the core of who we believe ourselves to be.

“What practices, habits, attitudes, and realities are now possible because he is who he is, and therefore I can be the same?”

With so many cultural — and, face it, “religious” — influences seeking to name us against our will, a right understanding of our identity in Christ allows us to cling to our “real, God-engraved name.”

Hearing the Why

Pressing into a spiritual practice of asking questions holds the door open for those in the following life to move beyond the basics of what and how questions and to live our way into the world of why.  It’s our motives that shape who we are, and rather than pasting a list of legal requirements to our exterior selves, Jesus challenges believers in the practice of becoming:
Become the kind of person who can forgive beyond the seventy time seven.
Become a lover of the neighbors who act in an unworthy and annoying way.

Failure as Spiritual Formation

Curious living extends two challenges in the uncomfortable realm of failure:

  1.  Learn to understand and embrace our failures as part of who we are;
  2. Repent of our old ways of seeing failure.

In His recorded dealings with the failure of biblical characters, God goes on record as One who meets murderers and cheaters and weaklings of all types with grace and forgiveness.  What if part of the “all things” in Romans 8:28 that God promises to use for our good and for the fulfillment of His holy purposes includes (gulp) our failures?

Rituals, Routines, and Disciplines as Part of the Curious Life

Again, the important question in the following life is “Why?”  If I’m doing something because I want to earn favor with God, or because I think I can control some outcome in my life by it, then it’s likely that a ritual or routine has become my master.  God has ordained certain practices of godliness because He wants “to cut thick neural pathways in our minds that allow wisdom to flow continually.”  We show up in front of an open Bible each day, not because it’s a lucky rabbit’s foot and “my day always goes better if I start with Scripture” like a multi-vitamin, but because this is the path of formation that makes me into the kind of person who is able to discern the voice of God from all the screaming banshees inside my head.

Casey invites readers to keep a Questions Journal as they read and provides prompts at the end of each chapter that prime the pump.  I was surprised at what came bubbling to the surface as I scribbled questions into my notes, and I invite you to start reading Jesus’ biblical questions with a bit more involvement.  What if you were face to face with Him over coffee, and He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  What comes to mind first?

As we persist in our asking and in our listening, may we find that our questions become bolder and that we begin searching to know Him rather than merely to know about Him.  The spiritual practice of becoming curious is God’s gift to His people, and He has equipped our souls to take the shape of an explorer into the deep things that will change our way of seeing the world.  Are we curious enough to follow Him there?

This book was provided by the 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.”

 

Be watching for details about an upcoming reading group that invites you to read (or re-read!) and discuss Wendell Berry’s classic work of literary fiction, Jayber Crow.  The discussion will begin on Thursday, September 7th.  A flawed and curmudgeonly bachelor barber, Jayber’s homely wisdom has inspired me to think more deeply about what I believe.  Here’s a thought from his ramblings on prayer:

“I prayed the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’ Having so prayed, I prayed for strength.”

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.

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Musings — July 2017

The corn’s not as “high as an elephant’s eye” here on this country hill in Maine, but it’s shoulder-high, and I’m sure the raccoons are already planning a picnic. The tomatoes are in blossom and I picked two big bags of green beans today, so canning season has officially begun.

And . . . the wedding pictures from last month are starting to roll in, so I hope you’ll indulge me for just a few:

On the Nightstand

When we choose our heroes of the faith, it’s easy to forget how they got where they are.  In the case of Elisabeth Elliot, I’ve long admired her no-nonsense observations on life and godliness, and I’ve taken to heart her tell-it-straight interpretations of Scriptural commands.  This month, I re-read her first book, Through Gates of Splendor, written after the spearing death of her husband and his four colleagues in ministry.  It chronicles their efforts to impact an isolated Ecuadorian people group with the claims of the gospel.

The story is old enough to have acquired its own patina of glory, but there wasn’t much romantic about being left as a widow in the jungle — a single mum whose only source of income was missionary support.  It takes grit to stay on the field and continue the work you began with your husband — but it takes something more than that to pick up where your husband left off and to travel deep into the jungle so that you can live with and minister to your husband’s killers.  And so, if you do that when you are twenty-something years old, I think a seed is planted which, if watered with obedience and tended by grace, grows into a voice of wisdom that can get away with saying hard truth because her listeners know that she has lived it herself:

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

“There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.”

“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

“You can never lose what you have offered to Christ.”

“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.’”

I’ve read Through Gates of Splendor countless times in the past, but picked it up this summer for two reasons:

  1.  Emily Whitten has recommended it as July’s Classic Book of the Month. If you’re curious about that, click here for information about how you can get a complimentary three month risk-free trial of World Magazine which gives you access to all their print and online content.
  2. It’s time to start planning for the new school year, and as reading material for my fifteen year old, I had been planning to pull out Elisabeth’s Shadow of the Almighty and The Journals of Jim Elliot.  I’ll add this one to the list (and enjoy re-reading the other two myself while I’m at it!)

In some ways, maybe Elisabeth Elliot never stopped being a missionary, for even in the days leading up to her death, she was showing us the Way, the Truth and the Life by the way she followed Him and graciously accepted all that came from His good hand.

Also on the nightstand:  

If you participated in the Book Discussion group last year around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, (or even if you didn’t!) you may be interested to know that there is another one in the works!  Keep your eyes open for more details in upcoming posts in which I will be sharing details, quotes from the book (to tempt you to join us!), and eventually a reading and discussion schedule.

On the Blog

I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of a number of blogging friends this month:

Shannon Coleman who blogs at Of the Hearth invited me to be part of a series to encourage mums that it really IS possible to grow spiritually during the intense years of mothering.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, recalling how it feels to read the Bible with one eye and to watch an exploring toddler with the other, to endure the interruptions and then return to the task at hand. Most of all, it was encouraging to share the more current experiences of learning to roll with the changes and adjustments because of a commitment to make spiritual formation a priority.  Part One of the series gives some background and makes a case for the prudent use of little minutes while Part Two gets into details around accountability and flexibility.  If you know of a young mum who is in the process of setting priorities (or who is feeling frustrated), I hope you’ll share the links with her!

Declaration of Dependence

Debbie Kitterman shared my story of God’s faithfulness to our family during a time of crisis.  Just as King David, in times of distress, remembered what he had learned about God from past experiences of His faithfulness, the memory of being carried by God in the past can change the way we respond in the moment.  I hope you’ll join me over at Debbie’s place to be encouraged by the Old Testament story in which David took courage from the Lord.

 

The July theme at SheLoves Magazine has been “Open.”  Writing to a prompt is such a great way to examine the happenings of life through a different lens, and for me, in these days of in-between, with weddings and funerals and graduations all piling up on the calendar, it was a challenge for me to look at my days and ask God, “Are there words for this season?  Even for this?  Can you really meet me here?”  And of course He could, so I hope you’ll take a moment to hop over to SheLoves where I’m sharing about Life in the Wide Open Spaces on a lawn mower as part of our family business.

As a result of all this gadding about in cyber space, I’ve reviewed only three books at Living Our Days this month.

The top-notch journalism that characterizes NPR’s Marketplace was behind Rob Schmitz’s Street of Eternal Happiness.  Knitting together tales of his neighbors’ lives on a busy Shangai street in modern-day China, the clash of new and old is suddenly more than just a series of statistics about left-behind children and the lasting effects of Maoism in a budding capitalistic economy.  The stories left me wondering about the characters long after I had turned the last page.  If you think you don’t like non-fiction, but want to challenge that notion this summer, here’s a good place to begin.

 

I am acquainted with Sue Detweiler’s ministry through her blog, so, naturally, I was curious about her book, and the timing was excellent, because I’ve been challenging myself this year to be more intentional in my prayer life.  Women Who Move Mountains is an invitation to pray with confidence, boldness, and grace because it is not my own puny faith, but, rather, God who moves the mountains.  While the following life is not a promise of “smooth sailing forever and ever,” Sue provides examples from her own life and from women of the Bible who reveal the rich truth that prayer is essentially a relationship in which we are being trained in righteousness.

I found Thirty Thousand Days because Catherine L. Morgan found me through a mutual blogging friend, and I was thrilled to be able to review her book, partly because the math geek in me was fascinated at this numerical component:  the average human spends 30,000 Days in this journey home to God.  (As you read this, I will be living number 20,027.)  But even more than that was the beautifully crafted reminder that there is abundance to be found the midst of the mundane, that our hearts were designed to be poured out for the glory of God, and that I am here, not on vacation, but on mission.  Let this quote about the role of the church in the life of the believer light a fire under your lawn chair:

“I am an alien and stranger here in the thick of a great battle.  If I am engaged in this battle, I will need the refuge of the church.  Love will sustain me.  If I do not perceive this need, maybe I am not really engaging the fight.”

Be encouraged, my friends, as you engage in the fight wherever you are.  This has been a disturbing month in many ways, with lots in the news that is upsetting or downright discouraging.  It’s been good practice for me to focus on “controlling the controllable and leaving the uncontrollable to God.”   

Blessings and love to you!

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Beautiful wedding images were captured by Carrie Mae Photography!

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.

Once again, you’ll find me over at Leigh Kramer’s place for What I’m Into .  She throws the doors of hospitality wide open for bloggers to share their end-of-month recap posts.  If you ‘re looking for your next summer read or wondering about recommendations for podcasts, you’ll want to make a visit there.

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.

 

 

 

Standing Ready to Be Amazed

The average human being lives approximately 30,000 days — which sounded like a long stretch of time until I did the math and discovered that, as of today, I will have lived 20,005 of mine.  Catherine L. Morgan envisions these Thirty Thousand Days as a journey home, traveling on a rattle trap train toward a sure and certain future of abundance.

In the meantime, however, there is waiting, and there is heartbreak, and no matter how well we try to manage our journey, there is always regret.  This following life, then, is one in which we look boldly at Solomon’s cynical Old Testament pronouncement that “all is vanity” and “a chasing after the wind” — all the while trusting in Jesus’ promise of an abundant life.

Living Well

Offering her own wisdom alongside that of others, Catherine lays down a cobblestone path of words for this journey gleaned from her personal reading of a broad range of authors and thinkers.  She speaks out of the context of experiences gained through inner-city ministry with her family in an impoverished section of the sprawling Denver metro-area.  Far from Chicken Soup for the Soul, her conclusions are a bracing cup of strong tea — no sugar.

If we want to live well within the gift of our thirty-thousand days:

  • We will walk purposefully.
  • We will offer up our hearts to care passionately.
  • We will open our hands to give generously and unclench our grasp from around the things of Earth.
  • We will love deeply because it is commanded — not because it is easy.
  • We will stand firmly in a dangerous faith.

Bold Questions

Pursuing “the things over which Christ presides” is a chasing after light, a darkness fighting strategy if ever there was one.  And this is the gift of viewing our days on this planet as a temporary prelude to a glorious eternity.  Childlike, we will ask questions that promote a bold following:

Why not read Psalm 37 with a reckless abandon?  What would it be like to wholeheartedly trust, dwell, do good, and delight?  Can I even imagine a life without fretting?

What if my present circumstances are a canvas against which the glory of God will be radically put on display?  What if this current set of troubles is “light and momentary” after all?

Am I able to view my marriage — or my singleness — as a mission?  Can I hold my church membership in the same light as a gym membership in which I “expect to sweat, to strain, to run an extra mile?”  Let this thought marinate to adjust your perceptions on community and the local church:

“I am an alien and stranger here in the thick of a great battle.  If I am engaged in this battle, I will need the refuge of the church.  Love will sustain me.  If I do not perceive this need, maybe I am not really engaging the fight.”

Leaning into the truth that I am mightily loved by God, that He delights in my delight, I am emboldened to discover where this great love might lead.  Catherine points out a pattern in the book of Acts that I’m eager to see reproduced in my life and in the lives of those I love:  “The disciples prayed, and then they were amazed.  They prayed, and then they were amazed.”

With thirty thousand days ticking by so quickly in this journey, I stand ready to be amazed.

//

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 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 Reading the Bible Different from Reading Any Other Book?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book.  A Huffpost Survey indicates that 88% of respondents own a Bible, yet only 1 in 5 Americans read the Bible on a regular basis.  At one end of the spectrum are those who consider it alongside and equivalent to any other ancient text.  At the other end, it’s seen as a magical book that we can open anywhere and find immediate and personal guidance. Furthermore, multiple surveys reveal that biblical illiteracy is at an all time high (and growing!).  Has the Bible become the book that we revere . . .  but never open?

In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper addresses the way we handle Scripture, and like a physician, prescribes regular and hefty doses of Truth for the health of the human heart, for the heart contains a “template with a form that corresponds to the glory of God.”   With our hearts “packed hard with loves of other things,” it’s easy to live an entire life without ever seeing and savoring the glory of God.  Since God has, indeed, revealed His glory in His written Word, can we read words on a page and come away with spiritual transformation?  Is reading the Bible different from reading any other book, and, if it is, how and why?

A Different Purpose

Building a case over the course of several chapters, John Piper uses intense imagery and moves back and forth between the voices of “Dr. Piper” and “Pastor John” to argue that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is this:

” . . .that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

He introduces each new implication by devoting a chapter to its unfolding, and then pauses for frequent review along the way.  The apostles Paul and John provide the foundation for the truth that it is possible for the glory of Christ to be put on display for 21st century believers by reading a text that was written by eye-witnesses — and, thereby, to share in the very same glory that they saw.  

First, the familiar words of John 20 (which give the purpose of the gospel) tie the written word to belief, and then, in his first letter, John affirms that his readers will see the glory of Christ “shining through the inspired writing.”

In addition, Paul, in Ephesians 3:3-8, essentially states, “When you read my words, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

A Different Response

The point of all this seeing of glory is two-fold:

  1. God has provided His Word as a means for believers to grow in affection for God, to savor and to enjoy God.
  2. The intended outcome of this emotional response to truth is transformation into the image of Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was on to this centuries ago when he wrote:  “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”  If you are hearing echoes of Piper’s signature statement that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,”  we’re on the same page!

A Supernatural Reading

Reading the Bible Supernaturally, then, is the only way to accomplish God’s purpose for the reader, for “God intends for us to read His Word in a way that involves actions and experiences of the human soul that are beyond ordinary human experience.  Seeing the glory of Jesus is not accomplished merely with our ordinary physical eyes, but with ‘the eyes of [our] hearts (Eph. 1:18).”  We depend upon God’s supernatural help because we are predisposed to spiritual blindness and bent on colluding with the enemy in our own deception and destruction.

It is this need for divine intervention that was behind Jesus’ accusation that the Pharisees (proud scholars of The Law, every one!) had “never read” the Scriptures!  Their eyes had certainly passed over the scrolls, and chances are they had memorized great chunks, but a supernatural reading (a right reading) of Scripture has not occurred until the essence has been absorbed and the heart has interacted with the substance of the message.

Fullest Use of Your Natural Powers

Without an open book, open eyes, the ability to make sense of grammatical structures, and the ability to intuit meaning from written words, there will be no reading.  Add to this the need for focused attention, a rested brain, adequate nutrition and exercise (and caffeine?) to aid in alertness, and the possibilities are endless, because — going back to our original question — the answer is Yes and No.  Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because of the need for dependence on God to accomplish His spiritual purposes.  However, it is exactly like reading any other book in that it will not yield its contents from a remote spot on my nightstand or in my backpack — unopened.

The plain hard work of sitting oneself down in a chair for repetitive reading with a pen and an open book and a list of questions — only half answered — is the natural component of reading Scripture.   It is met with the supernatural work of God Who takes the natural birth process and incarnates a Messiah, and, therefore, is able to intervene and bring about spiritual enlightenment to a human heart.

“God gives the miracle and we act the miracle.”

For someone who has been reading the Bible her entire adult life, Reading the Bible Supernaturally offered truth that I already know but practice so imperfectly that it was important for me to hear it all again in a new way.  Those familiar with Piper’s writing will already know his acronym for the cooperation between God and humanity in spiritual formation (A.P.T.A.T.).  I had not stumbled upon I.O.U.S., but copied it into my journal as an important reminder that when I open the Bible, I am dependent upon supernatural help for the kind of seeing, savoring, and transformation that God desires for me:

I – Incline.  “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Ps. 119:36).
O – Open.  “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18).
U – Unite.  “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).
S – Satisfy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).

God invites believers into an aggressive pursuit of Truth — and then stands by to assist.  When we open the pages of Scripture, there is more going on than meets the eye.  He “watches over [His] Word to perform it.”  He makes huge claims that the Word will accomplish His purpose and will not fail.  The natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally is a metaphor for the entire process of sanctification, a delightful paradox in which God inspires our work, enhances the impact, and radiates His glory as he accomplishes His purposes in the world.

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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.”

CaptureReading the Bible Supernaturally is John Piper’s follow up to his 2016 work, A Peculiar Glory, in which he examines the concept that the Bible reveals its complete truthfulness by the shining forth of a self-authenticating, peculiar, divine glory.  It provides helpful background, but even more important, it helps to put on display the uniqueness of God’s Word as the means by which we see and savor the glory of God.  I reviewed the book last year when it came out, and you can read my thoughts and get an overview 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.

 

Grow Up! (The Practice of Resurrection)

One of my favorite fringe benefits in this mothering life is the broadening of my world.  I routinely listen to conversations about welding and truck repair, have sat through hours and hours of livestock shows, and a few weekends ago, I witnessed my first triathlon.  I watched in awe as, one by one, the participants crossed the finish line after a grueling half mile swim, 11 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run, and I asked myself this question:

“What would happen if I put one tenth of that kind of effort and focused attention into the areas of my life where God has put His finger and said, “Grow up!”

I’m working on that in a small and quiet way by memorizing Colossians 3.  Paul begins the chapter with a reminder that it matters what we think about, and that the resurrection of Christ from the dead resonates today in every decision to purposefully focus on the “things over which Christ presides.”  And since I do not hold to dualism between the secular and the sacred, that includes everything!  This mindset celebrates the largeness of God and invites me to exercise my imagination in a discovery of the beautiful and the sacred in my everyday routine.

Community and accountability are always key for me in a memorization project, so I’m enjoying the fellowship around Colossians 3 at Do Not Depart.  I invite you to join with us in memorizing and meditating on this important passage of Scripture.  Lisa has developed a variety of helpful resources to get you started, and they’re all available here.  There’s also a Hide His Word Facebook gathering where the focus is on encouragement to memorize Scripture in community.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Paul’s opening words in Colossians 3 remind his readers that the basis for all our right thinking and right behavior is the resurrection of Christ and the believer’s participation in resurrection living.  Eugene Peterson has been helping me in my understanding of this as I have read and pondered Practice Resurrection:  A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.  “Jesus alive and present” changes everything, and “a lively sense of Jesus’ resurrection, which took place without any help or comment from us, keeps us from attempting to take charge of our own development and growth.”  (8)

Understanding the Practice of Resurrection Living

Mining truth from the book of Ephesians and laying it down beside the words of poets, novelists, and theologians, Peterson said-without-saying-it that a wide and rich reading life will enhance ones ability to read and learn from Scripture. Continually making “organic connection[s] from what you can see to what you can’t see,” he employs vivid metaphors to invite readers into Paul’s exhortation to practice resurrection:

  •  “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to live [or walk] a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (4:1)  In the Greek, the word “worthy” comes embedded with a picture of a set of balancing scales.  Does my life demonstrate a balance between my walk and my calling?  It is interesting that the entire structure of Ephesians models this balance with chapters 1-3 focusing on God’s calling and chapters 4-6 examining the believer’s walk.
  • Paul’s body of Christ metaphor emphasizes the homeliness of the church gathered.  On one level, we see a building; on another level, we witness the reality of people and relationships that make up the family of God; on a “spiritual” level there is the truth of the believer as the “dwelling place for God.”  With thirty plus years as a pastor on his resume, Peterson urges believers that “when we consider church, we must not be more spiritual than God.”
  • In the practice of resurrection, we work, but it is far more accurate to think that “we are God’s work and doing God’s work.”  This takes the focus off me (and all my valiant efforts to rescue God) and puts the spotlight on the truth that the entire revelation of God is the story of God at work alongside the invitation to join Him.

Understanding Prayer and the Church

When the Apostle Paul calls the church at Ephesus to grow up, his exhortation reverberates through the centuries, incorporating a call to live in fellowship with a local body of believers and to spend plenty of time speaking “the primary language that we use as we grow up in Christ” — this is prayer.  Ephesians resonates with prayer language and comprises some of the richest and most fluently theological material in Paul’s writings.  When my children began to reach the age when my own prayers for them seemed shallow and limiting, I memorized Ephesians 1 and the prayer in Ephesians 3 so that I could join Paul on our “knees before the Father” — instead of prescribing to God a plan of action that suited me.

The more I enjoy a book, the more difficulty I have in writing a review. Therefore, after having dog-eared pages and made a list of books that I need to read in follow-up, I feel as if I’ve only just begun to understand the words of Paul the Apostle and Peterson the Pastor on the practice of resurrection.  This may be the best possible outcome, for I’m seeing that “growing up in Christ means growing up to a stature adequate to respond heart and soul to the largeness of God.” (130)

This, of course, we know is a process that will take all the long leisure of eternity to realize.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 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 were part of this year’s book discussion group around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, you’ll be interested to know that Eugene Peterson references the book in his appendix as recommended reading on the practice of resurrection with these words:
“The last novel [C.S. Lewis] wrote, Till We Have Faces, he thought was his best.  I agree.  But it is also the most difficult, the most demanding.  The root of the difficulty is that it is about the most demanding of human tasks, becoming mature, growing up to the measure of the stature of Jesus Christ.”

As with all of Peterson’s Conversations in Spiritual Theology, this volume is best read in concert with the text.  When I read through and later taught the book of Revelation, I used Peterson’s Reversed Thunder to help my understanding and then wrote about it here.   Currently, I’m reading a leisurely path through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah alongside Run with the Horses.  And . . .one last thought:  if you are ever curious about what it might have been like to sit under Eugene Peterson’s preaching ministry for a series of decades, he has released a collection of his sermons this year, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, and I happily reviewed that book here on the blog.

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Hearing the Stories Anew

Capture

It is a trick of human nature that if we walk by the sock under the coffee table enough times, it will eventually disappear.  We will have stopped seeing it.  This is unfortunate for pristine housekeeping practices, and even more so when we’re reading the Bible. It’s tragic when we’ve heard the stories so many times that we’ve simply stopped hearing them.  The phrases slip by unheeded:

“. . . without form and void
. . . and God saw that it was good
. . . two by two
. . . and the waters prevailed exceedingly.”

Maybe it’s time to slow the stories down for the sake of our hearts; for the love of foundational truth that puts the creativity of God and His limitless grace on display; for the joy of seeing it all new through the eyes of a small person in our lap or beside us in the comfy chair.

In the Beginning and Noah’s Ark, part of the Baby Bible Book Series crafted by Susana and Owen Gay, have streamlined Creation and Flood narratives down to the essential points and the actions of God which reveal His character.  Colorful drawings are simple enough to invite tiny fingers to point to favorite animals and to count the stars on a page, but include sufficient detail for the little smarty pants to show off the fact that they know all the colors of the rainbow and the sound the monkey makes.

Parents, grandparents, and teachers of even the youngest toddlers can begin to establish a foundation for their tiny Bible scholars and, at the same time, find their own hearts rejoicing in the truth.

God created.
His work is good.
God rescues.
He keeps His promises.

When we participate in the spiritual formation of the small people in our lives, we may find — to our own great surprise — that we also are formed anew.

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These books were provided by Worthy Kids/Ideals, an imprint of Worthy Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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

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

A Mosaic of Images on Joy and Prayer

I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayers, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God.  Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.

Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter.  At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened.  It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.

In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.

“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)

Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first:  a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet”  jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD.  Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.

Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy.  This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.

The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise?  Order?  Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)

He portrays service as a learning process:

“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)

This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways:  in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.

Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:

  1.  “God is present in every moment and in every molecule.  His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
  2. The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”

Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.

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This book was provided by the William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company 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.