Tag: Eugene Peterson

The Deeper Reality of Politics

How have you felt about the upcoming election? One week from today millions will cast their vote for president. Messages of fear, anxiety, angst, and anger have come to the forefront of each commentary on the candidates. Fact-checking gets more and more difficult with the vast amount of information.

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Faith in Jesus does not dismiss our fears, anxieties, and frustrations, but rather responds to it differently. The deeper reality of politics has to do with one of the greater narratives of Scripture; Jesus is the hero of every story.

Scan the pages of the Old and New Testaments. You will find deeply flawed political leaders. David, the most heralded of Jewish kings, commits murder. Solomon exploits his riches to feed his pleasure. Xerxes operated out of insecurity. Nebuchadnezzar had an enormous ego out of his gain. Pilate cared about the polls before they even existed.

I wonder what those followers of Jesus would say to us today. Perhaps, they would empathize with our plight. Even more so, I think they would remind us to look beyond the power systems to see God at work. They had lived through their political chaos to see that Jesus works in the storms.

How do you live out the deeper reality of Jesus in the midst of this political mess? Eugene Peterson in Reverse Thunder, a book about Revelation, has a chapter called “The Last Word on Politics.” Peterson describe living in the deeper reality called the “Politics of the Lamb” or the politics of Jesus:

The politics of the Lamb takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal. The politics of the Lamb, by showing that the plainest of details of our daily faith are significant facts in a cosmic drama, protects us from hubris and guides us into maturity that pours intelligence and energy into what is before us, make a work of a holy art out of the ordinary.

Radically following Jesus in this political climate can look ordinary. Our faith lived out goes well-beyond who will become president. You live out in your practices.

It exchanges the constant fact-checking of policy and insults with the truth of Scripture. It calls us to identify our anxiety and bring it to prayer. We watch our words and thoughts because we recognize each person created in the image of God. Faithfully, we gather with the community of believers sharing in the greater story of grace.

Today, live in the deeper reality of Jesus. No matter who becomes president, He is the hero of every story. Let your faith become practice.

Photo credit by Augusto Navarro.

Remedying Short Attention Spans

Short attention spans come easier and easier. The headlines of last month can get lost in the urgency of today’s news. We move from story to story at an alarming rate, sometimes without taking any time to reflect on the larger issues. Opinions get debated without little nuance or thoughtfulness. It can seem more information brings anxiety rather than peace.

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Remedying short attention spans begins with recognizing Christ’s grace. It requires us to redirect our focus to a greater reality rather than succumbing to distractions. In a world where everything seems urgent, the Gospel constantly reminds us of the resurrection of meaning. We can live life as those created in God’s image and restored by His forgiveness.

A new way of looking at engaging Scripture includes the habit of having a longer attention span. We need this simple practice and reminder of seeing God’s grace. Consider what Eugene Peterson says in Run with the Horses:

We live on the gossip of the moment and the rumors of the hour. It is not as if we never hear the truth at all, but we don’t realize its overwhelming significance. It is an extra, an aside. We have no sense of continuity. We respond to whims, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then Scripture is placed before us. Words are assembled and arranged, and powerful patterns of truth become visible…Amnesia is replaced by recognition. Distraction gathered into attention.

Engaging Scripture has to do with cultivating an attentive heart to seeing God’s presence in the world around us. Not falling into the trap of worry, today’s headlines, and ventilated opinions, but coming to the place where we discover the Gospel in real life; seeing God’s grace in the everyday.

So today, read the Bible seeing the continuous work of God’s grace in the world around you. Take time to reflect on His faithfulness of yesterday. Slow down at a verse that stops you rather than reading for a quick self-help fix. Keep the Scripture as a reminder by writing it down or saving it on an app.

How can you recognize God’s continuous work rather than living with a short attention span?

Photo credit by Seth Doyle.

Acts of Hope

Hope has become commercialized. Politicians peddle it during the election cycles. The endless amount of advertisers sells us on it. Sport’s franchises have asked fans to buy into the rebuilding process. Commercialized hope can lead us to cynicism and disappointment, making promises for today without any accountability for tomorrow.

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Genuine hope moves us from passivity to action. Hope harmonizes the present with the future. What we believe about tomorrow leads us to how we respond today.

Eugene Peterson speaks of hope in Run with the Horses:

All acts of hope expose themselves to ridicule because they seem impractical, failing to conform to visible reality. But in fact, they are the reality that is being constructed but is not yet visible. Hope commits us to actions that connect with God’s promises (pg. 174)

How do we live with hope? Later on, Peterson talks about it becoming “Really Practical.” A coworker once coined the term, the nauseating details. I think this fits for hope because we get to the nitty-gritty of today by God’s promises for the future rather than a mere pie in the sky view.

Practical acts of hope look like this…
Planting because Christ causes growth.
Working with our best effort today at our tasks because Christ sees.
Praying for our enemies and those who hurt us because Christ heals.
Seeking reconciliation and forgiveness because Christ restores.
Showing up, because Christ is already present.
Engaging Scripture because Christ speaks.

The list could go on, but most often acts of hope seem extremely ordinary. Those practices that we can dismiss, but they come back to our minds. They reflect a belief in God’s promises. When we live with genuine hope, we ultimately experience God’s grace today.

What acts of hope has God called you to fulfill today?

Photo credit by Clack Street Mercantile.

Table Talk: Conversations on Scripture

A professor from a state school invited me to a biblical literature class. The students discussed the David and Absalom narrative from 2 Samuel on that day. I attended a Christian college full of classes interpreting, debating, and engaging scripture. This context intrigued me because it allotted me the opportunity to compare my experience with this class’ experience.

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Their discussion wrestled with David’s motives in 2 Samuel 15. The professor and students brought to the surface how David asked God to thwart Absalom, but how he devised his plan to do the same. For this class, King David wasn’t necessarily a hero but a flawed man of mixed motivations. Anyone engaging this passage has to grapple with the writer’s ambiguity of the characters’ motivations.

These students came from various faith backgrounds. Each one of them had a fascinating viewpoint to offer from the passage. This experience challenged me to read Scripture through their lenses of what they saw and heard. Often, we can find ourselves engaging Scripture out of our biases and preconceived notions.

I meet people apprehensive about reading the Bible. People fear misunderstanding the text and then misinterpreting it in discussion with others. Some of us have lost the imagination of experiencing the story of Scripture. It can become another task in the day.

Part of our problem comes is that we were never intended to engage God’s Word on our own. Community becomes a place where we wrestle, interpret, and discuss Scripture. We open ourselves to listen to other’s perspective because we recognize our limitations to understanding the text.

Galatians 6:6 says, “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” What we see people in the Bible discussing the Scriptures: Jesus with Nicodemus, the Early Church in Acts 2:42-47, Peter with Cornelius, Paul with various churches. Engaging Scripture becomes a practice participated in community.

Students of Martin Luther recorded their conversations with him in the book Table Talk. The book references discussions at the dinner table. Table Talk gives us a picture of engaging the Bible in community. We sit at the dinner table with each other discussing passages learning from each other. It becomes part of our everyday life. Table Talk gives us a picture of engaging the Bible in community. We sit at the table with each other discussing passages learning from each other. It becomes part of our everyday life.

Eugene Peterson in Eat this Book says this about Scripture:

Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son (pg. 18)

My class visit reinforced the value of engaging Scripture in community. Not just an academic or intellectual pursuit, but in the realization that we mature not just by engaging scripture on our own but with each other. God speaks to us while we sit at the table together.

How do you engage the Scripture with the people around you? Where do you have your table talk with others on Scripture?

Photo credit by Aaron Burden.

I’m No Saint

Do you have a difficult time receiving admiration? Downplaying seems humble, but you have undercut a compliment. Saying thank you at times feels seems like we expected it. Part of the tension for us comes from how we view ourselves. Many of us have filled our minds with our sharp critiques. Hearing admiration from another halts the thoughts of ourselves.

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We use self-deprecating humor. Our ability to laugh at ourselves has an ounce of authenticity, but for many it acts as a defense mechanism. If I can put myself down before others, then they will not. It reveals how uncomfortable we are in our skin.

For some us, we live every day with the constant bombardment of knowing that we do not add up. Our imperfections gnaw at us. Rather than seeing the beauty and grace of the Gospel, we have the partial view of over recognizing our brokenness.

Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23 prayers over the readers. He calls them saints. Not a word just reserved for the spiritual giants or charismatic leaders, but for the ordinary people. Eugene Peterson in Practicing Resurrection says this about the passage:

If someone is taken by surprise by something admirable that we do and that person says, “You’re a saint,” our automatic response is “I’m no saint.” We protest, “If you knew me you would never say that.” But Paul is not deterred. “Yes, you are. Pay attention to what I am saying. I want to give you a new word for yourself, a word that defines you primarily in terms of who God is for you and God is doing in your life, a person who is growing up in Christ, a person who cannot be accurately identified apart from God’s intents and persistent attention: saint.” And so we do pay attention. Saint. Holy (pg. 78)

The Gospel in us declares, “You are a saint.” Not of the virtue of what you have done, but of what Christ has done for you. Misunderstanding the Gospel can result from not moving from seeing our brokenness to receiving Christ’s wholeness.

All of us have faults and foibles. You and I have a first-hand view of our areas of growth. When someone points out any goodness in you remember God calls you saint. Those words of affirmation point to the tangible presence of Christ in you. Rather than protesting it, let us realize how the Gospel changes our lives.

Sainthood moves from just seeing ourselves to seeing others. The grace we have received from Christ in our lives allows us to see His grace at work in others. Being a saint has nothing to do with us, but has everything to do with Christ with us.

In the midst of knowing the reality of our thoughts and actions, we may have come to believe the lie, “I’m no saint.” Paul reminds us of the Gospel at work in us, which Jesus calls us saint.

Photo credit by Chris Lawton.

5 Quotes from 2015

What will you remember from 2015? This season calls us to remember how we have grown in the last year.  We think about the certain moments and relationships that caused us to mature. Reflecting on 2015 gives us insight into the work of Christ in us. What we learned, recognized, and areas of our lives that Christ called us to grow.

As I thought about remembering 2015, I wanted to share the five most meaning quotes from this past year:

Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God who Hides by Tony Kriz

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Four Faces of a Leader by Bob Rhoden

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1 Peter (Two Horizons New Testament Commentary) by Joel B. Green

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The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith

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Leap Over the Wall by Eugene Peterson

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What will you remember from 2015? Share in the comment section below.

Into the Wilderness

When have you gone into the wilderness? I moved to Missouri in the middle of winter. The Midwestern brown fields had turned into a few feet of snow. Not the ideal first couple weeks. More than the weather, it took longer than I expected to adjust to a new community. I began to wrestle with God’s presence in my life; did I miss Him on this decision or did He, in fact, put me in this awkward place. Describing Missouri as a wilderness, fit in more ways than one for me.

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Finding yourself in the wilderness causes you to have more questions than answers. Doubt swirls like a Midwestern tornado. Has God hidden from me? Will anyone who understands come along side of me? How do I leave this place?

Monotony tires our spiritual lives. Attending church requires effort. Engaging Scripture lacks illumination from the Holy Spirit. Prayer seems transactional rather than relationally connecting with God. We even fear to share about the wilderness to those closest to us in community.

The wilderness brought space in my life for new experiences. I began to reconnect with family and made new friends. The search for God caused me to find Him differently. Eugene Peterson in Leap Over the Wall talks about the wilderness:

I readily acknowledge that this circumstantial wilderness is a terrible, frightening, and dangerous place; but I also believe that’s a place of beauty. There are things to be seen, heard, and experienced in this wilderness that can be seen, heard, and experienced nowhere else. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we do well to be frightened we also do well to be alert, opened-eyed. In the wilderness we’re plunged into an awareness of danger and death; at the very same moment we’re plunged, if we let ourselves be, into an awareness of the great mystery of God and the extraordinary preciousness of life (pg. 74)

I’ll never forget one of the extraordinary moments in the wilderness. Bill, a boss from college, came to Missouri for a conference. He called me and asked to meet for lunch. In theses seasons, you’re a little more attuned to God bringing the right people into your life. We talked about the difficulty and beauty of my time in Missouri. He began to share his story about the ups and downs. He related t me in such a way not just to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but see God’s presence in the moment.

The wilderness invites us to listen more intently especially to those who have gone through a similar season. This place causes questions for us because we need a new perspective on ourselves, others, and God. Our hearts grow in grace, humility, compassion, and joy. We lean less on having perfect circumstances or control to rediscover the promises of God.

You might find yourself in the wilderness. Embrace the questions. Listen well. Perhaps, this season might invite to experience God in different ways.

How has your life changed by going into the wilderness? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Ahmed Radwan.

A Six Play Faith

Remember the Titans ranks high on any list of sport’s movies. At the beginning of the film, the team loads the bus heading to Gettysburg for training camp. Head Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, hand his offensive coaches the rather thin playbook. He responds to their comment on the playbook by saying, “I run six plays, split veer. It’s like Novocain. Just give it time, it always works.”

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Simplifying the playbook and remaining disciplined to six plays can sound old-fashioned and monotonous. We have a difficult time with commitment. Some of us would rather run to a new idea as opposed to completing the path before us. We self-diagnose ourselves with ADD.

Maybe part of growing faith means sticking to six plays rather than adding more. What do we miss when we run from idea to idea; small group to small group; book to book; practice to practice? Our impatience can lead us to miss out on growth we might have experienced.

Eugene Peterson in the Long Obedience in the Same Direction makes this observation:

We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian Discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention on our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasm. It is out of such reality that we acquire perseverance (pg. 133)

I wonder if sometimes God invites us to experience growth in a far less complicated way. At the heart of growing in faith, may not come from increasing a to-do list or additional act but from releasing our focus on ourselves to recognize God at work.

The grace you may need to grow may have more to do with sticking with a thinner playbook. We fill out schedules. We add more books to the list. We jump to the next event. Thinking that our effort alone will manufacture faith. We miss the slow, patient, stick-to-it grace offered to us by Jesus.

All throughout the Scripture we notice growth in the picture of crops and trees because God grows us through a process so that we might know Him; planting, watering, growing, harvest. We respond to His work in our lives. He invites us to a thinner playbook to grow.

How might God call you to simplify your life to recognize Him?

5 Ideas for a Book Discussion

Frequently, I get asked, “What book would you recommend for a group discussion?”

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Photo credit to Jessie Schnall at Portraits by Jessie.

Planning a discussion involves understanding the dynamics of the group. How much time can the group give to reading? What topic would be most helpful to each person? Where might this group move to next? The following books, I recommend for their wide appeal and ability to generate meaningful conversations for the committed follower of Jesus, Christians in a season of doubt, skeptic and seeker:

61gc7dYUCSL1. Barna Frames (Various Authors, Edited by David Kinnaman & Roxanne Stone)

Barna Frames includes nine books (referred to as frames) less than one hundred pages on topics ranging from violence, adoption, multi-careering, changing attitudes about church, and digital over-connectedness. Choose one fitting your group or I would encourage you to read all nine. The frames include statistics and infographs.  Authors such as Bob Goff, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, David H. Kim, and Jedd Medefind further explore the topics with their expertise. You may also want to take advantage of the group discussion guides.

 

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2. Chasing Francis (Ian Morgan Cron)

Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves conversations about theology, doubt, and spiritual formation within narrative. Chasing Francis explores a journey of faith through the perspective of character, Pastor Chase Falson. His story moves him from pastoring a mega-church in Connecticut to following the steps of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy. My wife, Robyn, and I have thoroughly enjoyed this book together. The back of the book also includes a study guide for each chapter.

 

eat_this_book3. Eat This Book (Eugene Peterson)

The question of reading Scripture may not always be why but how? Eugene Peterson quintessential understanding of reading the Bible says, “Readers become what they read.” Eat This Book delves into understanding the congruent story of Scripture. This book invites readers to see both the art and science interpreting Scripture; providing a perspective on how to read the Bible for formation in Christ’s image. A group could highly benefit from this book by then transitioning into studying the Bible together.

 

imgres4. Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning)

A book written on grace from the perspective of a prodigal priest; Brennan Manning communicates grace to the weary and self defeating soul. Throughout Ragamuffin Gospelyou can sense an author with an understanding of the reader. If you and your group have lost touch of hope or find yourself in pessimism over the Christian faith, then this book could refresh you from grace as a theological term to an experience. Included is a spiritual retreat. This group discussion could lead to gaining a renewed perspective on following Jesus. 

the-cure5. The Cure (John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, Bill Thrall)

Last summer, we discussed this book on family vacation. The authors of The Cure invite conversation by providing narrative about meeting with Christ and then a response concerning our understanding of the Christian life. This small 120 page book calls people beyond an inauthentic, cynical, and comparing understanding of Christianity to explore what it means to live our lives authentically with God and others. For more details regarding this resource you will want to see the True Faced Website.

Now it’s your turn. What books/resources would you recommend for a group discussion?

 

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