Devotions, [Eugene Peterson, Interview]

eugene-petersonInterview with Eugene Peterson

Why Can’t I Hear God? By Nancy Lovell

The musical group U2’s Bono quotes Eugene Peterson from the stage. Readers of the best selling Bible, ‘The Message,’ find themselves holding onto lines from his ‘fog-slicing’ Bible paraphrase, and many other works. For several years now, TheHighCalling.org has provided a daily prayer and reflection by Eugene Peterson. Recently, we asked the man himself: What are devotions and why do they matter in our daily work?

Why do so few people who believe in God bother to know Him?

The most obvious answer is that we’re in a hurry and not used to listening. We’re trained to use our minds to get information and complete assignments; but the God revealed to us in Jesus and our Scriptures is infinitely personal and relational. Unless we take the time to be quiet, in a listening way, in the presence of God, we never get to know him.

The same question is why so few married couples really know their spouses. People get divorced after 20 years of marriage, and the rejected spouse says, “I never knew this was coming. I thought everything was fine.” But there was not much listening in those 20 years. Devotions are the discipline of being quiet and listening for what we don’t hear in the streets, in the media, in the workplace.

What about people who sincerely set apart time, read the Bible, stay still, and hear nothing? They ask themselves whether God’s voice is anything more than their own thoughts.

We’re not good at this. We’ve had no practice doing it. No wonder we only hear our own thoughts. This is why the church is so insistent that we do this whether anything happens or not. Supported by 2000 years of history, we know that God does commune with us in our listening. But because we’re so unused to this way of communion, we don’t hear it. So it takes time.

How would you direct someone trying to start?

I would say: Get your Bible and find a place. If you can’t do this daily (some people can’t because of their life circumstances; mothers with young children are obvious instances), try for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week, or four. Don’t make demands on yourself too high. Don’t ask questions about, “How long is this going to take?” Believe that something does happen in that silence—usually through Scripture, but not always—in prayerful, attentive listening, knowing that you’re in the presence of God.

I ask for a commitment of six months; so don’t come back in three weeks and say nothing’s happened. I’ve never had anyone who’s done this at least six months who came back to me and said, “I did it and nothing happened; I’m going on to something else.” Not many who give this a fair test ever say that nothing happens. Also, when I’ve asked people to do this as their pastor, I also ask them to worship regularly. This is a place where the whole community is gathered and listening and being in the presence of God.

Is that how you started?

I was lucky. In the family I grew up in, I started when I was about 14 …mostly with the Psalms, but all the Scriptures become part of it.

In your writing and speaking, you must have seen moments when a person realizes, “Yes, I want more and I want God.” What turns on the light for people?

Often the motivation is that people are tired of the way they’re living. They think there’s got to be more than just the motions they’re going through and the work they’re doing. There’s a craving and hunger that they identify with God. There’s enough pain or boredom or something to motivate them to do something that the culture’s not telling them to do. I got a letter recently from a friend of 40 years. She had been a parishioner of mine for a long time. Then she was ill, and divorced; and she quit, just gave up. She quit reading the Bible, quit going to church. Six months ago she wrote me a lovely letter that she was sitting with a group of friends and, in her words, “a rooster crowed”—it all came back and she was a Christian again and aware of the presence of God. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? ‘A rooster crowed.’

Who knows what went into that statement of hers? Twenty years of unhappiness, pain, suffering, disillusionment …but still there was the need.She would have said during that time she didn’t believe in God. But the rooster crowed. That’s why we use the term the Holy Spirit to explain times like this. Given that it’s hard to discipline ourselves to silence, listening—and to daily time in quiet—tell us about your devotions on this website. I wrote those in the early morning for 20 years, maybe 25 years. And what I was trying to do was be present to the Scripture, listen to God, and to write as honestly as I could. I wasn’t thinking about anybody else but me.

It’s really hard to be honest as a writer. You get these wonderful ideas, and you love to manipulate words and see if you can make it sound good. It’s hard to be honest, especially working for God. That was the thing I was most aware of. “Eugene: Don’t say anything that is not relational, immediate, honest; stay present to the text and be honest before God.” I believed if I could be honest, I could draw some other people to honesty, too.

To read the rest of this interview, you will need to follow this link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/workplace/articles/interviews/eugenepeterson.html

 

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The Difference the Holy Spirit Makes

Chesterton-disciple

I like this quote. The early Church was all of these things: Fearless, happy, and very much in trouble. Luke wrote of the nascent exploits of this group of people in the Book of Acts, and while some believers will debate different aspects of theology, none can diminish the reality. These were human beings irrevocably touched by the Holy Spirit.

Some have even suggested that the title of the book be changed to “the Acts of the Holy Spirit.” (Instead of “Acts of the Apostles”).

When the fire of the Holy Spirit meets the dry tinder of the heart, it explodes into a conflagration that can’t be contained. It boils over and touches everyone around it. The disciples became fearless. Their boldness could not be diminished or diluted. They were so courageous (and contagious) that they preached to both kings and beggars.

They were “happy.” Once they had surrendered their personal ‘agendas’ they became immune to the negative issues of life. They soared with the eagles of contentment and joy. They no longer lived in the ‘mud’ of human life. They were ‘Teflon’ to that which can be so sticky. Happiness is the deep evidence of a personal contact with God’s own spirit.

But they ‘were in constant trouble.’ There may never been a people so maligned and persecuted. The apostle Paul faced daily obstacles. As the de facto leader of the church, he absorbed a lot of hatred and wrath that was focused on the early Church. Everywhere he went this darkness would descend, and each time God met him.

I suppose that we might ask ourselves, is this our experience? Am I fearless, and happy? Am I in ‘constant trouble” for the sake of the Gospel? (Do the police have my ‘mug shot?’)

Honest reflection is in order I think. We should really determine if we have the very same spirit that the early Church possessed. Whether or not, we should amend our relationship with the Spirit of God, and seek to be more tractable to His work. We start by believing the truth about our hearts and lives. The Truth is stronger than the lies.

This post was not intended to condemn. If you have read that into these words, I ask forgiveness. But reading this over, I will retract nothing. But I still ask that you ‘spiritually check’ each thought. Is it biblical, and does it glorify the Lord Jesus?

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33, NLT

 

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Quote for this Good Day

“I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.”

–Mother Teresa

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Feeding the Dogs, [Choosing Holiness]

A toy I grew up with, they were magnetized pushing against each other.

There is a story of a Native American elder who once described his own inner struggles to understand the Bible and Christianity.

Inside of me there are two dogs. One is black, and the other is white. The black dog is mean and tries to talk me into making the wrong choices. The white dog is good and encourages me to make the right choices. The black dog fights the white dog all day.” When asked by the friend which dog wins, the elder reflected for a moment and replied;

“The one I feed the most.”

White Dog: As a believing Christian, there is a part of us that is Christ-spirited, compassionate, trusting, open, abundant and focused on helping others. We pray and are being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Black Dog: The other part is our flesh. We can be proud, evil, self-centered, greedy, manipulative, sullen, promiscuous, drunken, and only wants to he served by others.

“An analogy is made between the good white dog, our new nature in Christ, and the bad black dog, our old fallen nature. While we cannot eliminate the old nature, we can choose to feed the white dog.”

(From “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in our Life,” by Billy Graham 1978.)
 

howlingwolf3-300x281The main key for us to remember is that these two parts are in constant struggle.

Two Scriptures to help: One– “If you use your lives to do the wrong things your sinful selves want, you will die spiritually. But if you use the Spirit’s help to stop doing the wrong things you do with your body, you will have true life.”   Rom. 8:13, NCV

Two– “Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please.”   Gal. 5:17

In thinking this through this analogy might help.  I’m inclined to think that holiness is not so much like an “on and off” switch.  But I think it’s more like a “dimmer” switch is turned to brighten or darken a room.  I actually think there are times when we should make a deliberate decision for God.  And yet other times we just need to turn up the dimmer from 30% to 80%. Maybe all the way?

I’m just thinking out loud here.

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The Real Treasures, [Weaknesses]

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As Christians often our theology tells us that mental illness, depression, and bipolar disorder have no place in the believer’s life.  So we hide, sneaking into our sessions with our therapists, and change the subject to minimize our exposure to direct questions. We have had to hide our issues really well. 

But I would submit to you that it is we who are closest to the Kingdom of God. It is far easier for us to approach the Father, in our brokenness, humility, and general lostness. We have needs; a sound mind, a healthy body and we know it. We have no illusions of wellness, nothing can convince us that we are well. We are not.

We are broken and only our loving creator can mend us.

You might say that the Church needs us. An Archbishop was given an ultimatum by the Huns who surrounded his cathedral. “You have 24 hours to bring your wealth to these steps”, the war-leader demanded. The next morning the Archbishop came out leading the poor, the blind, the lame, and the lunatics. “Where is your treasure? Why have you brought out these… people?” The Archbishop simply and quietly replied, “These are the treasures of the Church, these who are weak are our valuables. They make us rich.”

We often can value giftedness more than weakness.

I am afraid the the Western Church no longer sees its “treasures” like it should. In our pride and self-centeredness we have operated our churches like successful businesses. We value giftedness more than weakness. We definitely have no room for the desperately weak. I suppose it’s time for the Church to begin to act like Jesus.

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church should be a verb.  Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.

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Waiting Time is Never Wasted Time

“Wait for the Lord’s help.
Be strong and brave,
and wait for the Lord’s help.”

Psalm 27:14, NCV

Much of the Bible describes people’s interaction with God. Almost always they end up waiting for God to fulfill His promises to them.  They wait and wait.  Often God takes them right to 11:59, and then shows up in some miraculous way.That is just the way it is.

The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people. 

Waiting is quite beneficial to us.  Like a slow stream, it takes time for things to settle, we are often turbulent, and waiting helps us calm down.  Slowly the stream becomes clear and clean.  When our faith is tested; we develop patience and submission.  And when the blessing comes to us, we will savor it even more.

‘Waiters’ are actually reflectors on the promises of God yet to be.  It’s promised, but not yet.  Hebrews 11 is this very powerful statement of people waiting in faith.  Read this chapter and look at them waiting.  Each one is looking for a promise yet to come.  Some wait well, and others, not so much.

Waiting time will never be wasted time. 

 We should weave that into the fabric of our hearts.  Waiting is not like sitting in a room for your to see the doctor.  When I sit in a waiting room, I browse through old and tattered copies Newsweek and four year old National Geographics.  I study the other people who are also waiting, sometimes like a detective trying to understand the story of their lives up to this point.  I look at my watch a lot.

Waiting on God is not supposed to be like this. When the Word speaks to us of waiting, it has a great deal to say about humility. When we wait well, we start softening.  God’s waiting room is the place where we spend a large percentage of our lives.  It is an active spot where we put ourselves in the sovereignty of God.  We see ourselves on His timetable, not ours.

“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.” 

Heb. 11:1

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Tough Love: The Ragamuffin Gospel, An Excerpt

The Ragamuffin Gospel

 by Brennan Manning

Tough love is a love that won’t let go. Sometimes, it has to be ‘velvet on an iron fist’. It is caring enough not to be manipulated or controlled. The truth must be spoken— and spoken in love. The best thing I could do is to let Mr. Manning speak for himself.  I hope it blesses, and perhaps you’ll purchase his book.  I don’t think it will disappoint. No copyright infringement has been intended. It has been reprinted for ministry purposes only. If this small portion piques your interest, buy the book from your local bookstore. — Bryan

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Excerpt of Chapter 7, by Brennan Manning

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The temptation of the age is to look good without being good. If ‘white lies’ were criminal offenses, we would all be in jail by nightfall…

Impostors in the Spirit always prefer appearances to reality. Rationalization begins with a look in the mirror. We don’t like the sight of ourselves as we really are, so we try cosmetics, makeup, the right light, and the proper accessories to develop an acceptable image of ourselves. We rely on the stylish disguise that has made us look good or at least look away from our true self. Self-deception mortgages our sinfulness and prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are–ragamuffins.

One of my indelible memories goes back to April 1975 when I was a patient at an alcoholic rehabilitation center in a small town north of Minneapolis . The setting was a large, split-level recreation room on the brow of a hill overlooking an artificial lake. Twenty-five chemically dependent men were assembled. Our leader was a trained counselor, skilled therapist, and senior member of the staff. His name was Sean Murphy-O’Connor, though he normally announced his arrival with the statement: “It’s himself. Let’s get to work.”

Sean directed a patient named Max to sit on “the hot seat” in the center of the U-shaped group. A small, diminutive man, Max was a nominal Christian, married with five children, owner and president of his company, wealthy, affable, and gifted with remarkable poise.

“How long have you been drinking like a pig, Max?” Murphy-O’Connor had begun the interrogation.

Max winced. “That’s quite unfair.”

“We shall see. I want to get into your drinking history. How much booze per day?”

Max relit his corncob pipe. “I have two Marys with the men before lunch and twin Martins after the office closes at five. Then . . .”

“What are Marys and Martins?” Murphy-O’Connor interrupts.

“Bloody Marys–Vodka, tomato juice, a dash of lemon and Worcestershire, a splash of Tabasco; and Martinis, Beefeaters gin, extra dry, straight up, ice cold with an olive and lemon twist.”

“Thank you. Continue.”

“The wife likes a drink before dinner. I got her hooked on Martins several years ago. Of course she calls them ‘pre-prandials.’ ” Max smiled. “Of course you understand the euphemism. Isn’t that right, gentlemen?”

No one responded.

“As I was saying, we have two martinis before dinner and two more before going to bed.”

“A total of eight drinks a day, Max?” Murphy O’Connor inquired.

“Absolutely right. Not a drop more, not a drop less.”

“You’re a liar”‘

Unruffled, Max replied: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I have been in business for twenty-odd years and built my reputation on veracity not mendacity. People know my word is my bond.”

“Ever hide a bottle in your house?” asked Benjamin, a Navajo Indian from New Mexico .

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve got a bar in my living room as big as a horse’s ass. Nothing personal, Mr. Murphy-O’Connor.” Max felt he had regained control. He was smiling again.

“Do you keep any booze in the garage, Max?”

“Naturally. I have to replenish the stock. A man in my profession does a lot of entertaining at home.” The executive swagger had returned.

“How many bottles in the garage?”

“I really don’t know the actual count. Offhand, I would say two cases of Smirnoff Vodka, a case of Beefeater gin, a few bottles of bourbon and scotch, and a bevy of liquors.”

The interrogation continued for another twenty minutes. Max fudged and hedged, minimized, rationalized, and justified his drinking pattern. Finally, hemmed in by relentless cross-examination, he admitted he kept a bottle of vodka in the night stand, a bottle of gin in the suitcase for travel purpose, another in his bathroom cabinet for medicinal purposes, and three more at the office for entertaining clients. He squirmed occasionally but never lost his veneer of confidence.

Max grinned. “Gentlemen, I guess we have all gilded the lily once or twice in our lives,” was the way he put it, implying that only men of large mien can afford the luxury of self-deprecating humor.

“You’re a liar!” another voice boomed.

“No need to get vindictive, Charlie,” Max shot back. “Remember the image in John’s gospel about the speck in your brother’s eye and the two-by-four in your own. And the other one in Matthew about the pot calling the kettle black.”

(I felt constrained to inform Max that the speck and plank comparison were not found in John but in Matthew and the pot and the kettle was a secular proverb found in none of the gospels. But I sensed a spirit of smugness and an air of spiritual superiority had suddenly enveloped me like a thick fog. I decided to forego the opportunity for fraternal correction. After all, I was not at Hazelden doing research on a book. I was just another broken-down drunk like Max.)

“Get me a phone,” said Murphy-O’Connor.

A telephone was wheeled into the room. Murphy-O’Connor consulted a memo pad and dialed a number in a distant city. It was Max’s hometown. Our receiver was rigged electronically so that the party dialed could be heard loud and clear throughout the living room on the lake.

“Hank Shea?”

“Yeah, who’s this?”

“My name is Sean Murphy-O’Connor. I am a counselor at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in the Midwest . Do you remember a customer named Max? (Pause) Good. With his family’s permission I am researching his drinking history. You tend bar in that tavern every afternoon, so I am wondering if you could tell me approximately how much Max drinks each day?”

“I know Max well, but are you sure you have his permission to question me?”

“I have a signed affidavit. Shoot.”

“He’s a helluva guy. I really like him. He drops thirty bucks in here every afternoon. Max has his standard six martinis, buys a few drinks, and always leaves me a fin. Good man.”

Max leapt to his feet. Raising his right hand defiantly, he unleashed a stream of profanity worthy of a stevedore. He attacked Murphy-O’Connor’s ancestry, impugned Charlie’s legitimacy and the whole unit’s integrity. He clawed at the sofa and spat on the rug.

Then, in an incredible coup de main he immediately regained his composure. Max reseated himself and remarked matter-of-factly that even Jesus lost his temper in the temple when he saw the Sadducees hawking pigeons and pastries. After an extemporaneous homily to the group on justifiable anger, he stoved his pipe and presumed that the interrogation was over.

“Have you ever been unkind to one of your kids?” Fred asked.

“Glad you brought that up, Fred. I have a fantastic rapport with my four boys. Last Thanksgiving I took them on a fishing expedition to the Rockies . Four days of roughing it in the wilderness. A great time! Two of my sons graduated from Harvard, you know, and Max Jr. is in his third year at . . . ”

“I didn’t ask you that. At least once in his life every father has been unkind to one of his kids. I’m sixty-two years old and I can vouch for it. Now give us one specific example.”

A long pause ensued. Finally, “Well, I was a little thoughtless with my nine-year-old daughter last Christmas Eve.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t remember. I just get this heavy feeling whenever I think about it.”

“Where did it happen? What were the circumstances?”

“Wait one minute!” Max’s voice rose in anger. “I told you I don’t remember. Just can’t shake this bad feeling.”

Unobtrusively, Murphy-O’Connor dialed Max’s hometown once more and spoke with his wife.

“Sean Murphy-O’Connor calling, ma’am. We are in the middle of a group therapy session, and your husband just told us that he was unkind to your daughter last Christmas Eve. Can you give me the details, please?”

A soft voice filled the room. “Yes, I can tell you the whole thing. It seems like it just happened yesterday. Our daughter Debbie wanted a pair of earth shoes for her Christmas present. On the afternoon of December 24, my husband drove her downtown, gave her sixty dollars, and told her to buy the best pair of shoes in the store. That is exactly what she did. When she climbed back into the pickup truck her father was driving, she kissed him on the cheek and told him he was the best daddy in the whole world. Max was preening himself like a peacock and decided to celebrate on the way home. He stopped at the Cork ‘n’ Bottle–that’s a tavern a few miles from our house and told Debbie he would be right out. It was a clear and extremely cold day, about twelve degrees above zero, so Max left the motor running and locked both doors from the outside so no one could get in. It was a little after three in the afternoon and . . .

Silence.

“Yes?”

The sound of heavy breathing crossed the recreation room. Her voice grew faint. She was crying. “My husband met some old Army buddies in the tavern. Swept up in euphoria over the reunion, he lost track of time, purpose, and everything else. He came out of the Cork ‘n’ Bottle at midnight . He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers. When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life.”

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Brennan Manning, 1934-2013

Max appeared to be having a coronary. He struggled to his feet making jerky, uncoordinated movements. His glasses flew to the right and his pipe to the left. He collapsed on all fours and sobbed hysterically.

Murphy-O’Connor stood up and said softly, “Let’s split.”

Twenty-four recovering alcoholics and addicts climbed the eight-step stairwell. We turned left, gathered along the railing on the upper split level and looked down. No man will ever forget what he saw that day, the twenty-fourth of April at exactly high noon. Max was still in the doggie position. His sobs had soared to shrieks. Murphy-O’Connor approached him, pressed his foot against Max’s rib cage and pushed. Max rolled over on his back.

“You unspeakable slime,” Murphy-O’Connor roared. “There’s the door on your right and the window on your left. Take whichever is fastest. Get out of here before I throw up. I am not running a rehab for liars!”

The philosophy of tough love is based on the conviction that no effective recovery can be initiated until a man admits that he is powerless over alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable. The alternative to confronting the truth is always some form of self-destruction. For Max there were three options: eventual insanity, premature death, or sobriety. In order to free the captive, one must name the captivity. Max’s denial had to be identified through merciless interaction with his peers. His self-deception had to be unmasked in its absurdity.

Later that same day Max pleaded for and obtained permission to continue treatment. He proceeded to undergo the most striking personality change I have ever witnessed. He got honest and became more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate than any man in the group. Tough love had made him real and the truth had set him free.

The denouement to his story: The night before Max completed treatment, Fred passed by his room. The door was ajar. Max was sitting at his desk reading a novel entitled Watersbip Down. Fred knocked and entered. For several moments Max sat staring at the book. When he looked up, his cheeks were streaked with tears. “Fred, he said hoarsely, “I just prayed for the first time in my life.” Max was on the road to knowing God.

An intimate connection exists between the quest for honesty and a transparent personality. Max could not encounter the truth of the living God until he faced his alcoholism. From a biblical perspective, Max was a liar. In philosophy, the opposite of truth is error: in Scripture, the opposite of truth is a lie. Max’s lie consisted in appearing to be something he wasn’t–a social drinker. Truth for him meant acknowledging reality–his alcoholic drinking.

The Evil One is the great illusionist. He varnishes the truth and encourages dishonesty. “If we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth” (1 John 1:8). Satan prompts us to give importance to what has no importance. He clothes trivia with glitter and seduces us away from what is real. He causes us to live in a world of delusion, unreality, and shadows.

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Try this link: Christianity Today Magazine interviews Brennan Manning: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/decemberweb-only/12-9-21.0.html

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