Teaching Children to Worship at Home

When the year is fresh and the calendar pages are crisp and spacious, our commitments and resolutions seem like adventures. “We can do this!” we declare as we gather the family around and open our Bibles to Genesis. Unfortunately, by Epiphany, the luster has worn off our resolve, and family devotions have begun to feel like a chore. And then there’s Leviticus . . .

Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen have prepared a guide that does the heavy lifting of plotting a course for family worship. Teach Us to Pray is organized into seasons based on the church calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The readings are dated for long-term use through 2027. An introduction to each section provides background and front loads a challenge to the parents along with a heads up about materials and recommended activities for planning purposes.

In the process of teaching the small people in our lives to worship, our own hearts learn the practice anew, and as I perused each day’s lesson for Advent, the eight-part pattern began a drumbeat in my thinking about exactly what worship entails:

  • Preparing – What environmental conditions will enhance the experience?
  • Inviting – God is there already. Invite Him into the center of your worship.
  • Stilling – In the silence, ask the Spirit to help you pay attention to God.
  • Singing – Music and lyrics for thematic songs are provided.
  • Reading – When we read Scripture together, we hear the voice of God.
  • Dwelling – What questions come to mind in relation to the text?
  • Praying – Thank God and praise Him for the day’s wonderful truth!
  • Blessing – Words from Scripture invite you to pray a blessing over your family.

How would my personal, grown-up variety of worship be enhanced if it was continually being shaped by these action verbs?

Encouragement for Worship at Home

Family worship took on many forms during the growing up years of our four rowdy sons. Often we gathered at meal time, but there were seasons when we occasionally claimed a Saturday night for a more intensive teaching session — followed by popcorn or some other treat. Three principles come to mind that guided us through those important years:

1.  Persevere.  Don’t give up!

If you forget, remember next time.
If you fail, do better next time. Just be sure there IS a next time.

2.  Take grace.

Conversations about spiritual things with my kids never go as smoothly as I plan them.  Sometimes my words sound brittle or awkward even to my own ears, and now that they are older, even if they are gracious enough not to roll their eyes, I wouldn’t blame them if they did! However, the Word of God is living and powerful. He keeps His promises, and He is able to incline our children’s hearts toward truth, even if we are unhappy with our own skill in delivering it to them.

3.  Maintain a long view.

Even the most serious of cross hymns sung during Holy Week lose their solemnity when there is a St. Bernard in the dining room throwing his head back and howling a descant in accompaniment.

Advent candles set a worshipful tone and help us to focus.  They have also been known to ignite a paper napkin that somehow went airborne during family worship.

I can laugh at these aberrations now because they are part of our family’s story. They remind me that worship is part of life, and as we guide our children’s faith-formation, daily times of family worship will set up a rhythm of faithfulness that will enable our children to envision a life in which God and His Word are part of every season and every day.


This book was provided by Calvin College Press via Westra Events and Media 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Year of Orthodoxy

It may have been my footsteps, or perhaps it was a slight disturbance in the breeze — imperceptible to me, but enough to set off a flurry of motion and a rustling of black feathers in the bare tree branches. The birds rose as one, and then, without hesitation cut to the north and rose higher, perfectly synchronized, beautifully fluid.

How did they know?

Who decided on that sudden change in course, and how did she communicate it? 

On that same walk, I was puzzling over a “situation” with our house. Furnaces, roofing, windows, and doors have come and gone in the past 24 years of life on this country hill, but this time the jarring news from the carpenter is that there’s a problem with the foundation. The repairs needed will not add a whit to the beauty of our home, but are, nonetheless, essential for its health and stability.

A Foundation of Orthodoxy

And thus, together, our family-fixer-upper and those well-choreographed birds played a role in setting my direction for 2018 and in helping me to choose a focus word for the year:  Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is not a path to lock-step uniformity in which we all move as one, but it may result in a harmonious unity that is freedom itself and is beautiful to behold in the Body of Christ.

Orthodoxy is the foundation to everything. It governs the way I understand and interpret Scripture; my comprehension of God and His ways; and even the practical application of Truth in my homeschooling, dish-washing, laundry-folding, floor-vacuuming, Bible-teaching, and blog-writing life.

There, under the clear, blue winter sky, I decided it was time to return to G.K. Chesterton’s classic book, Orthodoxy, which has been on my Kindle for a couple of years (and which I’ve started multiple times and then stalled).

With nine chapters and 239 pages in the edition I have, that will mean reading and interacting with approximately 20 pages or around three fourths of a chapter per month, and it is likely that I’ll be reporting on that pondering here in this space. If you’d like to join me on this year-long journey, you are most welcome, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts along the way.

From his vantage point of the early 20th century, Chesterton described his book as a “slovenly autobiography,” so his quirky personality will, apparently, be evident in his writing. Orthodoxy is not an apologetic work, but rather, a collection of Chesterton’s musings as he attempts “an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.”

The Anchor to Orthodoxy

Of course it is, ultimately, the Word of God which anchors us in Truth and in right thinking. To chart my progress in this at the outset of 2018, I’m making a fresh start with two brand new journals, both my gratitude journal and my all-purpose-catcher-of-random-thoughts having filled up by the end of 2017. Reviewing entries from past years is always either an encouragement or a rebuke, and I need both from time to time.

A Year of OrthodoxyTherefore, I was happy to discover Deborah Haddix’s Journaling for the Soul. Her handbook of journaling methods is a thorough and very accessible resource for anyone who wants to embark upon the exercise in soul care that journaling has become for me.

Deborah urges her readers to loosen up and enjoy the process of putting the pen to the page. This was reassuring for me because a few years ago I started keeping one journal for just about everything in an effort to live a one-piece life. So if I have an answer to prayer that I want to remember, an insight from my reading of the book of Jeremiah, or a great quote from a podcast, I scribble them all into the same pages. It’s also where I maintain a list of all the books I’m reading. Therefore, when I re-read journal pages, it’s enlightening to note all the different things that were feeding into my thinking at the same time.

One of the challenges I’ve heard women express about journaling is that they want to record their thoughts about prayer and Scripture, but they either don’t know where to begin, or they run out of steam at some point and abandon the discipline. Journaling for the Soul provides a collection of methods and approaches that can serve as an encyclopedia of options. I recommend that anyone who is not sure how to proceed just work their way through the book and try each method until they find an approach that resonates for them, and feel free to change as needed. List-makers and chart-lovers may gravitate toward inductive studies while creatives may find that color coding and verse mapping work well for them.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

Deborah Haddix offers words of encouragement to us all as we drill down into orthodoxy in 2018:

“Stay with it. Journaling for the Soul is a discipline that requires perseverance. When its newness wears off, when you don’t feel like it, when you are going through the ‘hard,’ press on. Ask God for His help and strength and energy to keep going in this worthwhile endeavor.”


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.”

Photo by Rowan Heuvel via Unsplash

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The Marks of a Sinner’s Saintly Story

Story has a way of capturing the imagination. Biography brings theological principles, life lessons, and spiritual wisdom to life as I bear witness to the grittiness, lived-out in a transformed journey. Poor choices and besetting sins become cautionary sign posts that might just keep me from going over the same cliff.

Karen Wright Marsh shares 25 open windows into the lives of saintly sinners who have loved God and served Him imperfectly throughout history. Her chief means of conveying Truth happens on the campus of the University of Virginia at the Bonhoeffer House where she presides over a weekly gathering called “Vintage.” There, she shares the lessons she has discovered in the flesh and blood that once belonged to historical brothers and sisters in the faith.

Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith is a collection of these conversations with the historical details reinforced by bracing accounts from Karen’s own winding pilgrim life. She makes it clear that a saintly title does not disqualify a believer from struggles, nor does it make one immune to the slippage that plagues us all.

What these 25 historical figures (spanning some 16 centuries of church history) have in common is the faithfulness of their search for Jeremiah’s “good way” and their dogged determination to walk its restful path. What characterizes the life of a sinner who has “stood at the crossroads” and chosen the path of a saint? I’ve been challenged by four characteristics that recurred throughout Karen’s biographical sketches:

Settling into Belovedness

Author and professor Henri Nouwen found himself caught in a cycle of work, depression, insomnia, and doubt that left him wondering if anyone would listen to his wisdom if they knew how much he struggled. His pursuit of significance ended with his embrace of the truth that, as God’s child, God’s favor already rested on him. He learned a willingness to hear God’s calling him “beloved” as the loudest voice in his head and heart.

John Wesley’s following life was one of “fighting continually, but not conquering,” (114) until he felt his heart “strangely warmed” by the spirit and entered into a life with God that was characterized by relationship rather than rules.

Twelfth-century monk, Aelred of Rievaulx delighted in relationships as a youthful extrovert, but found his heart’s desire to be fulfilled only by the knowledge of God’s love for him which infused meaning into all other human relationships.

Sinners who long to be saints will let go of their bent toward doing and turn their hearts toward a glorious being that rests in the knowledge of their own belovedness to the God of the universe.

Embracing the Strangeness

Flannery O’Connor, well-known for the portrayal of “large and startling figures” in her writing, lamented the fact that “people who believe vigorously in Christ are wholly odd to most readers.” (45) Her awareness of the total “otherness” of God led her to pray:

“Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.”

Only one of many followers who chose a non-traditional life style, Francis of Assisi walked hundreds of miles, dressed in rags, and lived hard-and-inconvenient because he heard the voice of God calling him to a non-traditional path.

Modern day saints are called to life of radical forgiveness as the norm, and “strangeness” may abound in varying degrees in the following life. Karen Wright Marsh examines her own commitment to WWJD with new eyes because of vintage saints and sinners’ example in embracing “the joy, the risk, the wholeness of taking Jesus at his word.”

The Brilliance of Practicality

When I picture medieval saints who committed themselves to a monastic life, the phrase “cutting edge” does not leap to my lips, but then, Julian of Norwich ratcheted her own vows up a notch and became an anchoress, enclosed in a small chamber within the church for the remainder of her lifetime. (Anyone else feeling claustrophobic right now?) Narrow of room but wide of life, one of Julian’s three windows in her little nook faced onto the streets of Norwich where she was able to provide counsel and spiritual insight to those who walked the streets of 14th century England.

Ignatius of Loyola approached the faith-life with a strategic confidence that would rival the Pentagon, and approached all decisions with the brilliant question:  “What will bring the greatest glory to God?” (164) This lifts the heavy burden of looking for X-marks-the-spot answers to our requests for God’s guidance, and emboldens the believer to take risks, leaning into a trust in God’s ability to work through Scripture and the wise counsel of friends, family, and mentors.

Risking the Forbidden

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer had settled into a comfortable pastorate in England as an escape from Nazi Germany, or if he had simply played it safe and taken a post in a German university while waiting out the war, we would probably never have heard his name. Instead, discerning the Nazi danger, he founded an illegal seminary, joined the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and was, therefore, executed by the Nazis. Of course, the two years between Bonhoeffer’s arrest and execution were overflowing with gorgeous writing that has shaped the church with its theological insights.

The Christian life of Amanda Berry Smith began with a bold prayer:

“I will pray once more, and if there is any such thing as salvation, I am determined to have it this afternoon or die.”

Her passion to know God and to share His love with the world propelled her into a life of risk. A former slave with no formal education, she traveled the world and preached to large crowds. When she encountered protesters, she knelt in their presence and prayed. She contracted malaria as she traveled by canoe in Africa, and succeeded in founding an orphanage for African American girls despite the challenges of living as a woman of color in pre-Civil Rights America.

Sinners who long to be Saints for God’s glory will trust for grace in the midst of fear, asking God for “the strong love that casts out fear.”

Following the ancient tracks of these 25 pilgrims has been both encouraging and disturbing. Each stands alone as a memorial to a significant and exemplary life, but taken together over time, they reveal the mysterious complexity of the following life and God’s creativity in receiving whatever raw material is offered to Him — and spinning it into gold. As I stand at my own crossroads and look; as I pursue “the good way” and put my feet on the path in front of me, I’ll rest in the Truth that God has long been in the business of transforming sinners into saints and He knows the unique contours of the road this sinner needs to travel.

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

Additional Resources

For more information about The Bonhoeffer House or Karen Wright Marsh’s ministry through Theological Horizons, click on over to their website.

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.

Loving My Mid-Life Christmas

For the past several years, change has been the only constant in our Christmas celebration.

Grown up sons marry, pack up their collection of treasured ornaments, and hang them on their own trees. College guys come home when they can and join in the fun on an intermittent schedule. Teens branching into individualized creativity grab an ax, stride manfully into the woods, and return bearing a Charlie Brown tree for their bedroom, which they will festoon with enough lights to interfere with normal sleep patterns.

Our Christmas gatherings have become a moving target with a schedule that requires both flexibility and diplomacy, but I’m learning to appreciate the Christmas that is and to let Christmas past be past — fondly remembered but not slaying my enjoyment of the here and now.

Alexandra Kuykendall, author of Loving My Actual Christmas, struggled with loving “Christmas present” as well. Visions of Pinterest perfection left her exhausted and so done with Christmas that she finished the season by stripping the decorations off the tree and stuffing them into their boxes, not caring if she ever saw them again.

In addition, Norman Rockwell gatherings around a flawless feast didn’t match the reality of the recent loss of her father and the empty chair at the table

Alexandra wanted to make some changes that would bring joy back into her celebration of Jesus’ birthday. She conducted an experiment which she hoped would help her to capture the essence of the season, and Loving My Actual Christmas is her lab report. Each of the four weeks of Advent and the lighting of each of the four candles represents a theme, so the Kuykendalls implemented those themes as the framework for their actual Christmas.

Who among us doesn’t appreciate a little more Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in our celebration of Jesus?

I’m sharing my review of Loving My Actual Christmas over at The Perennial Gen, so I hope you’ll click on over and join us there. Insights from the book may be just what you’re looking for to align your own celebration with the reality that surrounds you, and while you’re visiting, be sure to check out the collection of other posts.

You’ll be inspired by the wisdom there as you put down solid roots into the dirt and light of midlife.

 

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Additional Resources

Alexandra shares even more details about her Christmas experiment on her own podcast, The Open Door Sisterhood. She also engaged in a soulful and enlightening conversation on the Ears to Speak podcast, episode 5 in which she discussed the Christmas realities of budgets and complicated relationships, planning realistic and joyful traditions, and her journey of discovering how to live out a Christmas that is full of love and is spiritually intriguing to the people around you.

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.”

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.

Who in the World Am I? (Dating the Enneagram)

Following the writings of the prophet Jeremiah has been a challenge this year. So far, it’s been seventeen chapters of lament tempered by steadfast faith — along with words of judgment interspersed with glorious promises of restoration. It shouldn’t have surprised me then when Jeremiah 17 took a sharp curve in the road at verse nine:The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

Who indeed, for we are many things in addition to being “deceitful,” and our inability to know ourselves fully becomes readily apparent when we take it upon ourselves to know someone else in a meaningful way. Alice Fryling offers insights on how knowledge of the Enneagram can help us in sifting the motives of our hearts by understanding our own unique temperament — and maybe that of our loved ones as well.

Mirror for the Soul invites believers to connect the dots between self knowledge and the grace of God, for as we embrace our Enneagram number, we learn that we are more than just a package of gifts and failures.  Alice shares her own self-discovery in this way:

“I am a person created by God, loved by God, and uniquely gifted to love others with God’s merciful and gracious love.”

Often what we lack in our efforts to change and grow is a language of transformation. Alice found this in her study of the Enneagram and holds it up to readers as a mirror to provide a clear view of ourselves, and as a corrective to the “puzzling reflection we have of our own lives.”

The Enneagram has hazy historical origins, but, then, so does the wheel. In the 1970s, Richard Rohr brought its teaching to laypeople, and since then, numerous authors have made it accessible as an aid to the Christian’s spiritual journey.

In my reading about the Enneagram, I’ve been eager to find a parking space that fits me so I could begin to understand my gifts and the reasons I get sidetracked. Mirror for the Soul has given me a different goal for this personality inventory. Why not slow down and live in a space, trying it on to see if it describes me? Then look at another one that might be a closer fit? Alice calls this “dating the Enneagram,” and recommends a meandering process of self-discovery, noticing what happens when you are under stress, and using the process to learn about yourself.

Nine Spaces and Nine Unique Perspectives

The diagram shows that each of the nine spaces has three components:

  1. A main attribute
  2. A compulsion of “the false self” whose agenda is to look good and to pretend
  3. A “grace given to that person as an invitation to return to the true self.”

I’ll clarify this using the Three as an example, because I think that’s my space: The main attribute of the Three is Effectiveness:  I like to get things done. Ugly Deceit rears its head when I need to hide behind “success” in order not to be known as a failure. However, the path back to health is Truth: truth about myself, and Truth from God (in large doses, everyday).

The gift of the Enneagram is that there is no “right” space. The Two with their gift for loving is no more beloved than the Eight with their gift for power. Each space is vulnerable to hiding, but in different ways, and God invites each of the nine types to receive grace in order to become their true self.

Trying On the Triads

Alice Fryling’s approach to self-discovery within the Enneagram focuses first on the Triads or groupings of the nine spaces:

  • The heart triad (2,3,4) lives life based on feeling.
  • The head triad (5,6,7) lives life based on thinking.
  • The gut triad (8,9,1) responds to life with their gut instinct.

It was this recommendation that sent me into “dating mode” with the Ennegram, because, although many of the traits of Three-ness line up with my tendencies, I typically function from the head rather than the heart. My love of books and knowledge lead me to wonder if I’m a five. I’m taking the author’s advice and looking at my motivations, life perspective, and instinctive responses to get closer to the bottom of this mystery.

Looking in the Mirror

For those who are on a quest for the transformation that comes with self-knowledge, Mirror for the Soul offers a number of practical principles and cautions:

Look to your weaknesses and motivations rather than behavior. Beware of your blind spots.

Since “the Enneagram is not in the business of giving out compliments,” (49) it is helpful to ponder the problems that come along with our gifts rather than focusing only on our gifting.

Spend some time attempting to understand the Wings and the Arrows.

Referring to the chart above, our Wings are the spaces on either side of us and influence  each of us differently and to different degrees.  For example, my bent toward quirky has led me to think that whether I’m a 3 or a 5, my wing is likely a 4.

Referring again to the chart, the Arrows pointing away from a number indicate where we tend to go in stress. Those pointing toward the number describe “how we are living when we are in a healthy place in our lives.” (109) With this in mind, it becomes clear that spaces in the Enneagram are not rigid boxes, which accounts for the uniqueness we see even among people who may share the same type. Alice speaks of being “at home” (107) in a space, and the more we understand ourselves and the Enneagram, the more likely this is to occur.

The So-What Factor

For the believer, greater self-awareness is not a narcissistic rabbit trail, but, rather, it leads to a greater capacity for loving relationships with others and deeper worship of God. The Enneagram invites us to wonder about addictive behaviors that keep sending us back to the same broken cisterns for satisfaction. It reveals suffering as a means to growth and transformation.

As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, and then ponder what we find in the mirror of the Enneagram, it would be tempting to despair, for we all have work to do. However, “the truth is that God is always waiting to be gracious to us and always ready to extend mercy.” This is good news as we boldly persevere in asking, “Who in the world am I?” and then live our way into our own unique journey of discovery in which we confront our sadness and frustration alongside our unique gifting and strengths and learn that the reflection gazing back at us belongs to a face that is deeply loved.

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

Additional Resources

Alice Fryling is a spiritual director whose website joyfully announces this stunning truth:

“We are mirrors whose brightness is wholly delivered from the sun that shines upon us.”     ~C.S. Lewis

Her site offers more information about her work with the Enneagram as well as engaging with Scripture.

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.

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.

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!

//

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.