Category Archives: the life of God

The Jesus Way: a Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way, by Eugene H. Peterson [Book Review]

JesusWay-EugenePeterson-09142009I wonder if Peterson’s primary starting place is the modern evangelical tendency to use pragmatic business methods to attempt to accomplish God’s much larger purposes. Peterson says as much on page 1. He notes how we unhesitatingly embrace the ways and means of the culture. And yet we remain ignorant (perhaps willfully so) of the ways and means of Jesus. So Peterson set out to show what Jesus’ way looked like. Along the route he shows how Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David and others walked that way.  Abraham’s (near) sacrifice of Isaac takes center stage as a test of how obedient he would be, and serves as a model for our own obedience when the way toward God’s promise is murky. All the people mentioned above help flesh out this way of utter obedience and resistance to the simple solutions the culture offers. On the other hand, the way of Herod and Josephus show how not to follow Jesus, with their self-focus and willingness to let expediency rule.

The book has been a marvelous balm as I try to make counter-culture moves with my own work life. In particular, seeing that God’s plans have not offer looked like the career that our culture has recently touted. Of course, today, since loyalty between companies and employees is largely dead, lots of people are rethinking how and if ”success” and ”career” fit together. For most today, a career is assumed to include several companies before the silver chord is severed. 

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Watership Down [Book Review]

A story about bunnies? It's interesting. Really.

A story about bunnies? It's interesting. Really.

Main Point: We spend our lives in a community of stories. And that is a good thing.

I remember picking up Richard Adams’ Watership Down years ago and quickly setting it down again: not interested in rabbit tales. But under the tutelage of Stanley Hauerwas’ A Community of Character (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) I recently reread it and found myself fascinated by the role of story in shaping community. Hauerwas used Watership Down to help explore and articulate the role of narrative in social ethics.

 One of the recurring themes in Watership Down was that when security was absent (as is nearly always true for rabbits), stories told in the relative safety of their burrows helped them adjust to a new condition or even just regain courage when all seemed lost. These were stories of clever rabbits who outwitted enemies. The stories told among the rabbits helped solidify plans for the leaders even as they enthralled and soothed the rank and file.

This story about stories is not far from my own experience.  The ups and downs of life take on a fuller perspective over a lifetime of rereading David’s psalms. Hearing David and other psalmists talk about the very points I experience is both satisfying and courage-building. Especially when I see and hear the psalmist come out the other side of those troubles because of being rescued by God.

These are precisely the stories we need to tell each other today—especially in difficult economic times.  Especially in an uncertain world where danger seems to be all around.

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Seeking New Direction. Finding Solid Ground.

DSCN7090Active waiting: when you’ve done all you can to move in this new direction, but God needs to open the door. Where to stand while you are waiting? Check out Finding Solid Ground in Slender Times at the The High Calling. org.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work [Book Review]

Worth reading.

What Does Bold Look Like?

Maybe it looks like standing up to a bully. Saturday’s StarTribune told of bullying at Oak View Middle School, and how many more kids who witness bullying want to do something about it than actually do something. The article didn’t say it, but surely speaking up–come what may–is an act of boldness. Saying truth boldly empowers others to speak up as well. Bold communication often begets bold communication—but not always.

Take the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, for example. His bold speech had him yelling into the crowds about God’s anger toward people who refused to listen and follow God. After he spoke, the priest, prophets and people seized him and demanded his death (Jeremiah 26:8).

Jeremiah had spoken boldly, carefully saying all God had for him to say. His message—God’s message—was not well-received. But that didn’t bother him, or at least so the reader would notice. In boldness, Jeremiah simply said what God had sent him to say, that they should turn away from not listening. And that they should turn toward following. He also said he would accept what they did to him because of his message. But—know this—that if they killed him for his message innocent blood would be on their hands.

In the case of bullying, if someone speaks up, their words can crystallize what others are thinking and others join in—especially when many say they wish to do something about it, like at Oak View Middle School. For Jeremiah, no one stepped in until they realized there may be a consequence to killing the messenger. That’s when the officials said, “Can we re-think this?” That’s when they suddenly remembered others had delivered the same message (Jer. 26:16ff) without dying.

But speaking up remains an act of boldness. Maybe others will be empowered and come to your rescue. Maybe not. Jeremiah as willing to be bold because he trusted the God behind the message. That’s what I want bold to look like in my life.

Watch and Pray in 2008

I am convinced afresh that God uses this opportunity of prayer to change the world I live in. He invites people to talk with Him. He willingly listens to a range of requests, but He pays particular attention to what the Bible says. For instance, God listens for people who would make it their task to ask God to “establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6-7) He has appointed watchmen on the wall to remind Him, to watch and call out for this thing God has promised—which I understand from a whole Bible perspective to mean establishing God’s people as those who draw others into reconciling relationships with the living God, from every geography and vocation and people. I long to be part of that.

We cannot do these things on our own, but God can through us. Earlier in Isaiah the prophet noted how people thought God was not able to accomplish stuff on this earth. But it wasn’t that God was not able to accomplish things, it was that those who called on him were separated from Him because of their own sin (Isaiah 59:1-4). And their requests went unanswered and injustice, falsehood and wickedness held sway. So a clean heart is not optional—and here again I need God’s help. God has also allowed people to pray and ask for strength to resist temptation. To watch—for ourselves and others—so that we don’t succumb to temptation (Mark 14:36ff).

How is it that God has allowed Himself to be turned by the requests of those who give themselves to Him? I’m tempted to be amazed at the power God’s people have, but it isn’t their power at all. It is a relational advantage, certainly, but it is all God’s power. Plus, it is all about accomplishing what God wants to accomplish.

Maybe 2008 is a year to watch and pray. Maybe this is a year to exercise our relational skills with God and ask that He accomplish all He wants to accomplish, using whatever people and circumstances He desires—and offering ourselves for His plans. Not that He waits for permission from us to do that. But if we can be part of the story God wants to tell, we benefit greatly and our lives gather meaning.

How is Work Changing You?

Every day you go to work and change stuff: you pound or ratchet or type or speak or listen or direct. Your try to move a product or process or people forward. And every day your work changes you.

We work to live. And we live to work. That’s true for all of us (vs. just the workaholics). We live to work the work we were meant for. Sometimes we’re paid to toil at that work every day. Sometimes we attend our life work after the daily shift. Happy is the man or woman who fits together their life work and daily work—even if only for fleeting moments.

Daily work shapes us. There’s the people: Bosses and companies who spend themselves seeking keys to motivate employees and then rewarding them at every turn. Then there are bosses and companies that reward selfish ambition and turn kind people into bastards. I’ve worked for both. We need to know who we want to become because our environment (including the people we hang with) always rubs off on us. And vice versa.

Then there’s the work itself: creative work that demands insight and penetrating perspectives—and builds those qualities into the worker as the worker applies him or herself. Relational work that builds compassion, patience and wisdom even as the worker feels the very lack of each quality. Or repetitious work that may bore, but can allow thoughts to wander in productive ways even while attending the details. And there is the work the worker cannot stand that brings death and loathing with each moment spent.Maybe we should pick jobs that accomplish the financial goal as best as possible, but have a component that lets us grow. That kind of work is worth praying for—which is possibly the most productive work we can engage in.

“The work itself will teach you how to do it.”–Estonian Proverb