Specifics Can Be Funny

I recently shared the fact that as I read God’s Word each day, He gives me exactly what I need for that particular day.  When I read an assigned daily reading there it is–just what I need to cope, have courage, move forward, forgive, change my attitude or rest quietly in Him and trust Him.  Let me give you some specific examples from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message, to illustrate what I’m talking about.  Some of these are pretty funny, actually.

May the Master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God’s love and Christ’s endurance.  2 Thessalonians 3:5  (given on a day when I was praying about wrist sprains, internal injuries & bruises from a bad bike accident)

I’m letting you know what I need, calling out for help and lifting my arms toward your inner sanctum…Blessed be God—he heard me praying. He proved he’s on my side; I’ve thrown my lot in with him.  Now I’m jumping for joy, shouting and singing my thanks to him.  God is all strength for his people…Save your people and bless your heritage.  Care for them; carry them like a good shepherd.  – from Psalm 28  — (given on a day when I was weary and praying for wisdom)

But you’ve made me strong as a charging bison, you’ve honored me with a festive parade.  Psalm 92:10 — (given the day our high school (the Buffalo Bison) won state football, and returned to town with police and fire truck escorts leading the way)

Go ahead, examine me from inside out, surprise me in the middle of the night—You’ll find I’m just what I say I am…I’m staying on your trail; I’m putting one foot in front of the other.  I’m not giving up.  I call to you, God, because I’m sure of an answer.  Psalm 17:3, 5-6a  (given the day of Chris’ graduation from boot camp in 2001)

GOD met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.  Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. When I was desperate, I called out, and GOD got me out of a tight spot.  GOD’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.  Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good GOD is.  Blessed are you who run to him.  Psalm 34:4-8 (given at a time I was worried and anxious about something)

Keep your eye on me; hide me under your cool wing feathers.  Psalm 17:8  (given on a stifling, hot day)

I have a friend who was starting a new job as a middle school music teacher, and she was especially nervous about conducting the choir with her hands.  Her scripture reading at that time said, “Whatever happens, conduct…”  (Philippians 1:27–NIV).  We just had to laugh, how God added humor to the day and gave her the courage to do what He had equipped her to do.

I could give hundreds (or thousands) of examples like this.  Some are too personal to share.  These are just a few that I wrote down in my journals from The Message; I’ll share more in the future.  I read from various translations, and the same thing occurs with any of the Bibles I’m reading.  Seeing the same scripture from various translations helps me see the passage from different perspectives, and helps me understand God’s heart a little more each day.

I don’t share this to brag on my own faith or “goodness;” I am only human like anyone else — weak, failing, imperfect.  I share this to reveal how good and faithful God is.  He is always present and speaking to me in my daily needs.  It’s all about Him, not about us.

 

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General Advice

Today’s quotes from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message are some of the best general advice we find in the Scriptures.  I absolutely love the wording of these true and wise passages of Scripture.

It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone.  Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?  Psalm 127:2

…all prayer, pursued far enough, becomes praise…  from Living the Message

…failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.  from Living the Message

Then GOD promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God’s prayer.  Psalm 42:8

So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.  Romans 14:19

You can’t force these things.  They only come about through my Spirit.  Zech. 4:6

The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake is confirmed by my sleeping heart.  Psalm 16:7

Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to His guests for their blessing…Run after mature righteousness—faith, love, peace—joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God…Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servants must not be argumentative but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. 2 Timothy 2:21-25a

It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others.  1 John 2:10

God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight! Psalm 18:2

 

He Never Walks Away

This week I have more quotes from Eugene Peterson to share with you; more of the quotes that I found in old journals that encouraged me then, and were just what I needed to see, again, in recent weeks.  These all relate to trials and difficulties.  I love the wording he put on these classic scriptures and in his own writing.

GOD will never walk away from his people, never desert his precious people. Psalm 94:14

So we’re not giving up.  How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.  2 Cor. 4:16

He heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds.  He counts the stars and assigns each a name.  Our Lord is great, with limitless strength; we’ll never comprehend what he knows and does.  God puts the fallen on their feet again… Psalm 147:3-6

He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.  He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence. GOD makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet.  Psalm 103:5-6

Job ridiculed the so-called wisdom of his friends.  They had such small minds!  … How insensitive they were.  In contrast, Job, through his suffering, became more aware of God than ever, sensitive to both the majesty and the mystery of the Almighty.  Such spiritual sensitivity is one of the great gifts that suffering has to offer, if only we have the humility to kneel and receive it.  Conversations, pg. 748

Great Introductions

When reading Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message, I enjoyed reading the introductions to each book.  These are really important words; don’t miss them.

Only as we develop raw honesty and detailed thoroughness in our praying do we become whole…   — Introduction to Psalms

But Habakkuk speaks our word to God.  He gives voice to our bewilderment, articulates our puzzled attempts to make sense of things, faces God with our disappointment with God…But this prophet companion who stands at our side does something even more important. He waits and listens.  It is in his waiting and listening—which then turns into praying—that he found himself inhabiting the large world of God’s sovereignty.  Only there did he eventually realize the believing-in-God life, the steady trust-in-God life, is the full life…where every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  – Introduction to Habakkuk

Matthew tells the story in such a way that not only is everything previous to us completed in Jesus, weare completed in Jesus.  Every day we wake up in the middle of something that is already going on, that has been going on for a long time:  genealogy and geology, history and culture, the cosmos—God. –Introduction to Matthew

We humans keep looking for a religion that will give us access to God without having to bother with people.  We want to go to God for comfort and inspiration when we’re fed up with the men and women and children around us…This determination to get ourselves a religion that gives us an inside track with God, but leaves us free to deal with people however we like, is age-old.  It is the sort of religion that has been promoted and marketed with both zeal and skill throughout human history…It is also the sort of religion that the biblical prophets are determined to root out.  They are dead set against it.  Because the root of the solid spiritual life is embedded in a relationship between people and God, it is easy to develop the misunderstanding that my spiritual life is something personal between God and me—a pirate thing to be nurtured by prayers and singing, spiritual readings that comfort and inspire and worship with like-minded friends.  If we think this way for very long, we will assume that the way we treat people we don’t like or who don’t like us has nothing to do with God. That’s when the prophets step in and interrupt us, insisting, “Everything you do or think or feel has to do with God.  Every person you meet has to do with God.  We live in a vast world of inter-connectedness, and the connections have consequences, either in things or in people—and allthe connections have consequences, either in things or in people—and all the consequences come together in God.  The biblical phrase for the coming together of the consequences is Judgment Day.  We can’t be reminded too often or too forcefully of this reckoning.  Zephaniah’s voice in the choir of prophets sustains the intensity, the urgency.  Conversations, pg. 1445, (Introduction to Zephaniah)

 

 

Favorite True Words

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Eugene H. Peterson.  The first is from one of his books and the others are from The Message.  Such assuring, true words!

The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before you know it.  So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.  The Contemplative Pastor:  Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.  I’m thirsty for God-alive.  Psalm 42:1-2a

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?  Why are you crying the blues?  Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again.  He puts a smile on my face.  He’s my God.  When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.  Psalm 42:5-6a

…that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.  Romans 4:5c

I kneel in worship facing your holy temple and say it again: “Thank you!”  Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness; most holy is your name, most holy is your Word.  The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength.  Psalm 138:2b-3

When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks.  Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively.  That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.  And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either…Here’s what I want you to do:  Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage.  The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.  Matt. 6:3-6

Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.  Matthew 11:28-30

Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.  Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Rough and Earthy Language

The media hardly noticed something that happened last week, but I noticed.  Don’t miss this entire blog post about “Rough and Earthy” language, because it may not be what you expect me (or Peterson) to say.

Montana resident and author Eugene H. Peterson passed away on October 22, 2018, and though I was happy for him to leave an imperfect world for a perfect one, it seemed sad for the world to lose such an outstanding preacher and writer.  I don’t idolize any human beings, living or dead, nor do I think any writer is perfect in all that they say, including Peterson, but I would say that his writings probably attributed more to my understanding of the true gospel than any other.  He spoke and lived the message of free grace, not of works. He also, in his humble way, had a way of directing followers, always, to other writers giving the same message that focuses completely on God, not on the believer.  In other words, it’s not all about us; it’s all about God and the finished work of Christ on the cross.

But the gospel–a word that actually means “good news”–is all about God not leaving us where we are, or even expecting us to earn our way to him.  God loved us so much that he provided the way for life–by sending his own Son.  Eugene explains it this way:  “Jesus is the descent of God to our lives, just as they are, not the ascent of our lives to God, hoping he might approve when he sees how hard we try.”  And that’s where the beauty and relevance of the Bible lies–not in our “good”-ness, our personal holiness.  The mystery of the gospel finds its greatness in God himself coming to us.   — Introduction, The Message Remix, Navpress, 2003, pg. 12

I recently shared that I have been reading through old scripture journals that I’ve kept through the years, and Peterson’s name comes up often in the quotes I’ve written down from his books, as well as in scriptures from his wonderful translation of the Bible — The Message.  His paraphrase has been criticized for not being an exact translation of original documents, even though it was intended to be a paraphrase, not a translation, and was intended to help people understand God’s Word better, in their own language–“rough and earthy.”  It certainly did that for me, as I compared his paraphrase with other paraphrases and translations.  I love how he explained this in his introduction to the New Testament (some of what he says here is indeed shocking to our way of thinking):

The arrival of Jesus signaled the beginning of a new era. God entered history in a personal way, and made it unmistakably clear that he is on our side, doing everything possible to save us. It was all presented and worked out in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was, and is, hard to believe, seemingly too good to be true.

But one by one, men and women did believe it, believed Jesus was God alive among them and for them. Soon they would realize that he also lived in them. To their great surprise they found themselves living in a world where God called all the shots, had the first word on everything; had the last word on everything. That meant that everything, quite literally every thing, had to be re-centered, re-imagined, and re-thought.

They went at it with immense gusto. They told stories of Jesus and arranged his teachings in memorable form. They wrote letters. They sang songs. They prayed. One of them wrote an extraordinary poem based on holy visions. There was no apparent organization to any of this; it was all more or less spontaneous and, to the eye of the casual observer, haphazard. Over the course of about fifty years, these writings added up to what would later be compiled by the followers of Jesus and designated “The New Testament.”

Three kinds of writing, eyewitness stories, personal letters, and a visionary poem, make up the book. Five stories, twenty-one letters, one poem.

In the course of this writing and reading, collecting and arranging, with no one apparently in charge, the early Christians, whose lives were being changed and shaped by what they were reading, arrived at the conviction that there was, in fact, someone in charge, God’s Holy Spirit was behind and in it all. In retrospect, they could see that it was not at all random or haphazard, that every word worked with every other word, and that all the separate documents worked in intricate harmony. There was nothing accidental in any of this, nothing merely circumstantial. They were bold to call what had been written “God’s Word,” and trusted their lives to it. They accepted its authority over their lives. Most of its readers since have been similarly convinced.

A striking feature in all this writing is that it was done in the street language of the day, the idiom of the playground and marketplace. In the Greek-speaking world of that day, there were two levels of language: formal and informal. Formal language was used to write philosophy and history, government decrees and epic poetry. If someone were to sit down and consciously write for posterity, it would of course be written in this formal language with its learned vocabulary and precise diction. But if the writing was routine, shopping lists, family letters, bills, and receipts, it was written in the common, informal idiom of everyday speech, street language.

And this is the language used throughout the New Testament. Some people are taken aback by this, supposing that language dealing with a holy God and holy things should be elevated, stately and ceremonial. But one good look at Jesus, his preference for down-to-earth stories and easy association with common people, gets rid of that supposition. For Jesus is the descent of God to our lives, just as they are, not the ascent of our lives to God, hoping he might approve when he sees how hard we try.

And that is why the followers of Jesus in their witness and preaching, translating and teaching, have always done their best to get the Message the “good news”, into the language of whatever streets they happen to be living on. In order to understand the Message right, the language must be right, not a refined language that appeals to our aspirations after the best but a rough and earthy language that reveals God’s presence and action where we least expect it, catching us when we are up to our elbows in the soiled ordinariness of our lives and God is the furthest thing from our minds.

This version of the New Testament in a contemporary idiom keeps the language of the Message current and fresh and understandable in the same language in which we do our shopping, talk with our friends, worry about world affairs, and teach our children their table manners. The goal is not to render a word-for-word conversion of Greek into English, but rather to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events, the ideas, into the way we actually think and speak.

In the midst of doing this work, I realized that this is exactly what I have been doing all my vocational life. For thirty-five years as a pastor I stood at the border between two languages, biblical Greek and everyday English, acting as a translator, providing the right phrases, getting the right words so that the men and women to whom I was pastor could find their way around and get along in this world where God has spoken so decisively and clearly in Jesus. I did it from the pulpit and in the kitchen, in hospitals and restaurants, on parking lots and at picnics, always looking for an English way to make the biblical text relevant to the conditions of the people.  — Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction to the New Testament, The Message

This week and next I will be sharing many of these “rough and earthy” quotes from Peterson, both from his books and from The Message, which he humbly did not count as “one of his books”, as you can see in the memorial video below.  I do this simply to remember someone who, through his writings, took me by the hand and led me to God, rather than to himself; and hopefully, reading his quotes in the coming days here will do the same for you.

Listen

Here are the final quotes from my notebooks this week; these are from 2010:

Learn to listen to all people.  Today, most people, including some leaders, listen only to others on their level of leadership — peers, relatives, friends — and neglect little ones and the poor.  Let us learn to humbly listen to all people, irrespective of their categories in life, because God can use them…As a result of listening to two lower voices, Naaman was healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5).  Let us remember that the dignity of the poor and needy is one of our core values.  God may even use these little ones to address our situations.  — Samuel Rugambage, Compassion International Country Director, Rwanda, One in Spirit, pg. 153

I trusted in thee in an hour of distress, and thou didst not fail me, though faith trembled.  — Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, compiled by Arthur Bennet, pg. 136

The following quotes began on the day my dad took a bad fall, and the following days as I helped care for him.  I was missing work, as he lived several hours away, but these verses confirmed to my heart that it was the right decision to go, and that I needed to listen to his needs, not mine:

When we interrupt what someone is saying to let them know that we understand, we move the focus of attention to ourselves.  When we listen, they know we care…A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well intentioned words.  — Rachel Remen, Table Wisdom, pg. 144

Expertise cures, but wounded people can best be healed by other wounded people.  Only other wounded people can understand what is needed, for the healing of suffering is compassion, not expertise.  — Ibid, pg. 217

It is those who have offered drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, a home to the stranger, clothing to the naked, or a visit to the sick or imprisoned who will be put on His right side and earn the title of “sheep.”  Their reward is the kingdom, prepared for them since the creation of the world — not for the degree of knowledge they acquired, not for their Sunday church attendance, but for having responded to the needs of the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned.  — Maria Reyes, Compassion International Communications Manager, Bolivia, One in Spirit, pg. 213

I had always worked hard at being good enough; it was the golden standard by which I decided what to read, what to wear, how to spend time, where to live, and even what to say.  Even “good enough” was not really good enough for me.  I had spent a lifetime trying to make myself perfect…[But instead] What was needed was simply to be human.  I was human.  All my life I had feared being found out…Whatever the expertise we have acquired, the greatest gift we bring to anyone who is suffering is our wholeness.  Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing.  It is often through the quality of our listening, and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us.  When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness.  Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person.  That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and by others.  That which is hidden.  In this culture the soul and the heart too often go homeless.  Listening creates a holy silence.  When you listen generously to people, they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time.  — Rachel Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom, pg. 219-220