Eugene Peterson

One person who has surely touched as many households as any in my lifetime is Eugene Peterson, now with the Lord. I have a good number of his books, most of which I believe I’ve read, and benefited greatly from. One might not readily recall details from the best writing, but it will inevitably have a lingering effect on you. Such was the writing of Eugene Peterson.

Writer of over 30 books, including The Message, and first and foremost a pastor. Well studied, in depth thinker in the Presbyterian tradition. With a Pentecostal background. Grounded and seriously committed to scripture, certainly within the tradition of orthodox Christianity.

Eugene Peterson was not about show, but substance, day in day out. “A long obedience in the same direction.” You couldn’t find fault with his writings. The one critique might be leveled against his best known work: The Message, but it is meant to be a rendering of scripture, rather than a standard translation. And you would do well to read through it, or listen to it. He once said (or wrote) that he disliked it when people said, “Here the word of the Lord,” and then began to read from The Message. He noted that they should use a standard Bible translation when doing that.

Eugene Peterson was about substance and simplicity. And a big part of that is simply in slowing down. He wrote: Read slower, not faster; less books, not more. I think from what I’ve gathered from him, that he simply wanted to live as much as possible in what God was about, whatever that was; to be still enough to know God, and be in the flow of what God is doing.

He will be missed, but his influence will linger on especially through people, as well as his writings from generation to generation. Until Jesus returns.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

reading up

We live in a society glued to our smart phones, and though I have yet to own a smart phone, I can be glued to my tablet, as well. There are avid readers, particularly it seems to me of fictional novels, finding many good stories from creative, interesting writers. But beyond that, I’m not so confident that we’re a book reading society, or even a good reading society at all, given at least one study. I love good books, but given my lifestyle and sometimes lack of discipline, I hardly think I’m holding up my end in reading.

One of the thoughts that has been recurring to me a bit is my need to “read up.” By that I mean I need to read things which can impact my life for good, which can stretch my thinking and challenge me to grow in many ways.

Of course I continue in the Book, the Bible. You can’t read up any higher than that. But to think that we can stop there, at least one person I know seems to suggest that, I think is to deny what the Book itself says. Paul talked about the scrolls and parchments, possibly I suppose referring to some scripture, and likely referring to books other than scripture. Paul’s own learning was not only evident then, but is evident to us who are far removed from that time. And teachers are given to the church. A good part of teaching can be writing. We are blessed today with a good number of evangelical and other Christian writers such as N. T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Lois Tverberg, Philip Yancey, Marilynne Robinson, Karen Spears Zacharias, Allan R. Bevere, John Walton, Tremper Longman III, Sharon Brown and many many others. Not to mention all the great writers of the past, who remain on the radar because their writings have stood the test of time, like Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Day, Julian of Norwich and again, many many more. And this mentions only Christian writers. There are plenty of other writers worthy of being read, who may not be Christian in their writings, or Christian in their faith, but from whom we can learn much.

And so my challenge to myself is to work at “reading up.” Continuing to read scripture (with some listening of it being read online), but working away at reading little by little. Following I think the wise counsel of another fine writer, Eugene Peterson, who encouraged readers to read less, and read slower. That’s what I’ve begun to do both from scripture, and hopefully whittling away, little by little in other books as well. It is best to read books one might want to reread, though many books can surely impact us for good which we’ll read only once.

Reading for pleasure, I know I’ve missed in my thoughts here. Ultimately one always derives pleasure from good reading, even if in the process it can become a bit tedious and long. Of course the best writing carries us along. Scripture itself unfolding for us the reason we exist and are to live in and through the good news in Jesus.

review of *Black Triangle*, by Patrick Davis

Black Triangle, by Patrick Davis

Usually when I do a book review I know the author- at least as an online friend. This is especially the case with this author who actually is married to my youngest sister. I respect him as a good brother in the Lord, exemplary in his life of faith. And a true friend. And I found out that he is an exceptional writer. Ordinarily I don’t read novels (to my loss). But I finally got around to reading his at least twice (maybe also in the distant past). That this is historical fiction helped and that it touched on the explorations and conquest of Spain into the new world caught my attention since I was once an avid reader of that part of early American history.

The book has much to commend. Yes, it is very well written. A movie could easily be made out of it, not having to add between the lines, because the book is quite detailed. I think for some readers that could get a bit daunting since so many asides are given. But the thrust of the narrative I think is sufficient to make up for that. Nevertheless I counted it a good exercise in making me a better reader. I also found myself at a loss over some of the language, a good example being nautical terms and phraseology. Perhaps the book could have provided a glossary or footnotes. However that would break up the flow of reading. Probably best that it didn’t. My reading in such places reminded me of some of my Bible reading in which even to this day I’m more or less dense, for example the layout of the temple and priestly practice. I found that the essence of the story was not missed by simply reading on, trying to understand as much as possible what I was unsure of. This was not throughout the entire book, but here and there, military terms and phraseology being perhaps the other prime example. Of course one does have recourse to the Internet. Still I do not see this as a major issue in reading the book. And in fact I counted it as a good education. There is no doubt that the author spent considerable time in research as is the case in many novels, and in fact, he told me that was the case.

Now to the story itself. The focus is on one Hernandez Pizzaro (who is a historical figure) and his venture in tearing himself away from his home in Spain on the farm against his parents’ wishes under the influence of his Uncle, Captain Martinez Pizzaro, in pursuit of “the Grand Pizarro Military Tradition.” And we find that he’s in pursuit of something more which no matter how many times he may achieve it, could never be satisfied. A black cloud of guilt hung over him since at the age of nine he had watched his eight year old brother, Francisco drown, Hernando unable to swim himself so that all he could do at the time was to run to his father. He vowed to his dead brother never to let that happen again, death being preferable to that. So we find a troubled young man with great promise, ability and heart, but unable to do what was expected in the very thing he excelled in due to this darkness with which he struggled most any and every day.

The gospel is interestingly and adeptly woven into the story and from within and many would say -the author included- in spite of a Roman Catholic Church religious perspective. The story showed that the gospel is powerful enough to penetrate even through a religion whose ritual is often without a living faith, yet in itself carries something of the seeds of that faith, whatever errors may be present (for the author –and myself– transubstantiation being one such belief: the teaching that the bread and wine become the actual physical/material body and blood of our Lord).

Romance is in the story as well as Hernandez finds that he and Nahuaxica, the daughter of an Aztec high priest share a strong mutual attraction. That along with some good, lasting friendships is a pleasant part of what is often a less than pleasant experience, graphically told throughout the book: the aspect of conquest by the Spaniards in their exploration of the New World, what they called New Spain (Cuba) and beyond. What also stood out to me, encouraging as well as instructive was how Hernandez and another man of the military expedition come to respect each other with some degree of friendship whereas once they were nearly enemies.

In the story two other historical figures are prominent, the leader of the Spanish military expedition, Captain Hernando Cortes and Montezuma, ruler of the Aztecs. The whole idea of claiming the new world for Spain as well as bringing Christianity and the gospel to “the heathen” in a peace backed by the edge of a sword, not to mention a penchant especially on the part of some (sea Captain Gonzalo Serrao being the prime example in the story of that) for material wealth which the Aztecs had in abundance in their gold- makes one cringe. The reality of what the Aztecs did in regularly sacrificing humans to all kinds of gods on the top of grand pyramids, something practiced by other peoples in that land as well, points to the idea of something of the depravity and evil the Spaniards were facing, not to gloss over their own evil.

War is brutal, awful and nothing to glorify in and of itself, as Hernando Pizzaro soon found out. How he is at long at last even in the midst of that set free from his deep darkness of guilt is fascinating. And in the twist and turns of a narrative that is not predictable at all. The way the story is told, one almost feels like they’ve been a part of it. What I see over and over again is grace, grace and more of God’s grace in spite of what the “Christians” were doing. And in a context which reminds us of the need to try to understand in full the complete historical narrative insofar as that’s possible. There is no doubt that for all the evil the Spanish did in their military expedition against the Aztec nation, they were to stop arguably a greater evil, the sacrifice of humans to strengthen and appease “gods”- young and old humans alike- some from their own people, many from other peoples of their land. A zeal for tearing down the idols with a hate for the deplorable practice is prominent, seen in Captain Cortes himself.

Again the gospel, the power of God for salvation is wonderfully woven into the story. I also identified with what Hernandez Pizzaro did and what he needed to do instead, which the gospel wonderfully set him free to do, which actually spoke powerfully to me. Indeed Hernando Pizzaro’s spiritual journey is fascinating and so true to life.

I found reading the book an enriching experience. As one of the best reads, one is wise to read it slowly and thoughtfully. There are thirty-seven chapters, some nice breaks to gather one’s thoughts. But the story compels one to keep reading. So I commend this book as worthy in itself. I am grateful to have read it. Definitely enjoyable and so much more.

not fit for this

I look at the rest of my life, and I see a lot of hard work to the end, however close that end is near. Someone recently graciously gave me the eleven volume set, The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant. He is getting rid of some of his library and offered that to me. And he called me a scholar in an exchange about this, during which I laughed out loud. While I consider that some sort of a wake up call for me to get back to reading, I realize just how limited my amount of reading will be, and even more the lack of outlet I have to share what I learn. I do want to read those eleven volumes and much more. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I can look back and wish I would have been plugged into this or that. It is hard to know where to go with that. I have more than one possible scenario I wish would have worked out. But that is a waste of time. I’m where I’m at now, as one who is enthusiastic to learn and grow, loves truth, particularly from the faith in Jesus, but very tired, the days spiraling into weeks and months and years.

I will try to hold on— and do better than that, in all my weakness. Hopefully leaving a good situation for my wife if I pass before her, and something of a true blessing for our daughter and her children.  In the meantime my head is nearly spinning. Well, I’ll take one day at a time, and hopefully get better at this.

John Wesley on the necessity and danger of reading (two proverbs)

Read the most useful books, and that regularly and constantly.

But beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.

John Wesley on the “Circulation of Books” and from a “Letter to Joseph Benson, November 7, 1768”

This makes me think that much reading can have two effects: We can become either proud or be humbled. Good reading helps us grow in humility and in the humility of our Lord.

study and the intellect

I was once a pastor of a little church called “Faith, Hope and Love Gospel Center.” It was run down and not resurrected through my work there of only about a year. I look back on that and shake my head, partly because I really needed a mentor, someone to guide me through that time. And I had one, but due to my youth and lack of wisdom (and his use of Robert Schuller* just on the side with a book to encourage those discouraged like myself), I left that great opportunity behind. But after that time on my own with my new wife Deb, I had come to realize that I needed or at least wanted more training, precisely more theological education. And having been influenced by a Baptist pastor and church nearby, I headed off to Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan (now called Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).

I was hungry for some intellectual food, and at the seminary, I certainly found it with some outstanding professors. That was a good season for me, I take it, laying a foundation for my life that was needed, although not enough of a foundation was laid on the church side to really get me going in the pastorate. My degree, following my Bachelor of Theology one (from Prairie Bible Institute) was a Master of Divinity. I wish I would have started on all of that when I was younger, and I wish I would have had the kind of mentoring I needed to become a pastor, or a teacher somewhere. And I wish I would have read and studied much more during my life. Some years back I thought the Lord gave me this one word: “Read.”

Study and the intellect is far more important than many of us Christians make it out to be. I am blessed in that where I work, RBC Ministries, such endeavor is valued, their/our mission being “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

There is more to life than just the mind, but the mind is part and parcel of the fullness of life we are to have in Jesus. Of course how that works out for each one of us will be different. Not all of us will want to head off to school to study more, or read books, one after another. But every one of us needs to have a thirst to read and study scripture, and try to understand God’s will as it applies to our own lives as well as the mission to which we are called. I would suggest as a minimum that each of us needs to be on a Bible reading (or Bible listening) plan or agenda. At least once a year through the Bible would be good, although what is essential is to be regularly in the habit of doing it. And we need to study and meditate on various books and passages in scripture. Any and every one of them over time would be a good goal.

At the same time, we also need to read those who are gifted in communicating something of God’s full will in Jesus. In all kinds of genres. And I think we need to learn to read widely over time. Read those who are not of the faith. Learn in areas that interest us. Again, we are all wired differently so we will all go about this differently, which doesn’t make whatever we do any less of a gift than whatever anyone else does.

Back to my own story, a bit. I wish I would have been much more faithful in reading and studying.  It is over years of doing such that wisdom is developed. And the aspect of study and the intellect is underrated and therefore underplayed in the quest for a Spirit-filled life. As Jack Levison pointed out in an excellent book I recently read, Daniel is a good case in point. He studied with some of his friends in the best education of his day, even that which was not of the faith, and surely was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures as well. And it was noted repeatedly in the book by those outside the community of faith that he was one in whom was the spirit of the gods.

And so read, and study as the Lord would lead you. As we seek to follow our Lord together for the world.

*This is not meant to put down Robert Schuller. I find good along with what I see as not so good in his message. I think he would say it’s grounded in scripture, but it seems to me to be in some line with Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. In my view, scripture taken out of context to support something which in the proper context is true.

my own niche

I love our church, and I actually love past church experiences in different ways. In this post I am reflecting with a goal to thinking in terms of whatever time I have left to serve our Lord in the fellowship of his church in mission to the world. I wish someone early on would have tapped me on the shoulder and mentored me to be a teacher, perhaps in the church or in a professional setting, whether in a Christian institution or not. I have always seen myself as having a pastor’s heart. I will always love the memory of Pastor Bill Hesse, a present day Barnabas. I wish I would have remained with him and under his influence. I think I may have ended up being a pastor. I was not sufficiently rooted once I left the upbringing of my youth, the Mennonite church.

I would love to start a home group, maybe even plant a church along with others. It would be rather Anabaptist and charismatic in theology. One church may not fit all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches could somehow do that? That is just kind of a dream, I suppose.

Something I think is more solid than that: I would like to just keep on reading and reading and reading, hopefully in ways which will help not only myself, but others. And humbly serve the Lord in the fellowship of his church in different ways as opportunities arise. I would like to contribute somehow to the faith of the church along with others. Just as one member within the body of believers, the body of Christ. We all have our special contribution to make.

In the meantime I think I need to continue to read on and on. Something some years back I thought the Lord said to me (something like: “Read.”). From that I will continue to work, hopefully be led by the Spirit and be open to that leading much better. In the fellowship of God’s people, the church, together in Jesus for the world.

who has your ear?

What we listen to, or take in is what can change us, for good or ill. I seem to learn best by listening. So I actually daily listen to the Bible being read. But I refer to listen in this post in a metaphorical sense. What do we take in day after day, or on a regular basis? And ultimately who should have our ear?

N.T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is revolutionized my faith, and turned me back toward my Anabaptist roots (even though he is not Anabaptist), toward a Jesus-oriented, Sermon on the Mount kind of faith, although that journey and the end or outcome of it is much more complex than that. Scot McKnight’s, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others also powerfully impacted my faith. Another important book for me right now in helping me get my feet more firmly on the ground is also by N.T. Wright: After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, with an excellent ending chapter on “the virtuous circle,” not to diminish the rest of the book. And there are a number of other key writers for me, such as Eugene H. Peterson, to name one. I wish I could read all of the books I would like to read, but “too many books, too little time.”

Ultimately the one who is to have our ear is the good shepherd, Jesus. We are likened to sheep, and sheep are known to respond to their shepherd’s call, recognizing the voice. If what we are taking in is not helping us hear the voice of the good shepherd, Jesus, then something is amiss.

Interestingly, what and how we hear is influenced by those around us, particularly those who actually do influence us or have our ear for one reason or another. I put our pastors high on that list, Jack and Sharon Brown, who I both deeply respect. And Sharon’s award winning book, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey, now being published by InterVarsity Press, is a most worthy read, unique in the way she helps us see how God can powerfully impact and change our lives in community through the spiritual disciplines rooted in scripture as practiced in the church (I am doing this book injustice with that sentence; you must read it for yourself).

In the end, let us listen, listen, and listen some more. Waiting and endeavoring to live as those who move because of the good shepherd’s voice, Jesus. Together in him for the world.

church and our work

I wonder about my blogging. My title is “Jesus community,” which sometime back I thought to change, though a friend whose writing and viewpoint I highly value seemed to strongly suggest that I leave it the same. But the fact that it is an individual venture, which I think for the most part is compatible to our church, but at the same time does not necessarily represent the views of our church, gives me pause. It is good for us to think on our own, but not good if that’s the only thinking we do. In fact perhaps the most seminal thinking we should do is in community, hashing things out in community. A fellowship of bloggers can do that, provided they read each other’s blogs. And what and how I think is certainly influenced and impacted by the Spirit of God through my participation in community. I do learn from others, or am impacted by the ministry that goes on through our pastors and others in our faith community.

I would like to be more directly involved in our church, but for the time being that comes only through participation with others. On the other hand, we each have our part. My part seems to be heavily (relatively speaking) in and from reading and writing. However that is not integrated into the church. Which makes me think of dropping the writing part altogether. It is not directly integrated, to be sure, and probably that is neither necessary nor necessarily good. My reading and writing impacts my participation in our church, and my participation in our church impacts my reading and writing.

At any rate, we all have our part. By itself it is small, but put together with everyone else it makes up the whole of our witness of faith. Together in Jesus for the world.