God’s got this

Last summer, Jana and I spent time with Eugene and Jan Peterson at their home in Flathead Lake, Montana. Eugene had graciously agreed to mentor me if I was fortunate enough to win a Lilly Grant for my sabbatical.

I’d come prepared with questions from the readings he’d assigned me, but mostly we talked about people and churches we all knew. Eugene had written much of The Message while living in Pittsburgh, and Jan had attended the same church we’d belonged to in Alabama. It was like catching up with old friends.

Eugene Peterson never set out to be a pastor. Indeed, in his memoir, The Pastor, he wrote in detail about how little he thought of pastors, mostly due to the type of pastors who’d come through his hometown when he was growing up. He later came to lament how pastors served more as corporate CEOs than shepherds of a flock. Eugene became a “pastor’s pastor” without ever intending to. His passing this week has many of us pastors reflecting on what he meant to us.

To me, his great gift was being able to see and point to Jesus in all things. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places is the title of one of Eugene’s books on spiritual theology, taken from the line of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Everything, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, is infused with the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus is at work in everything, everywhere, all the time, it means that we can quit running around like crazy, like pastors often do (and are usually expected to do). After all, if Jesus is in this, our role is pretty small by comparison.

My lesson from the sabbatical was “God’s got this.”

I can’t tell you how helpful this was later in the year as Jana’s dad entered his final illness. My father-in-law was a simple man of faith; he wouldn’t have understood books on spiritual theology. But like Eugene, he could see Christ in everything and, like Eugene, he delighted in everything.

It’s nice to know that “God’s got this.” He’s got Eugene, he’s got my father-in-law, he’s got me, he’s got Jana, he’s got our kids, he’s got you, and he’s got this church.

Soft on the outside

This week I’m preaching on Ephesians 6, where the Apostle Paul writes about putting on the “armor of God.” The armor includes things like the “belt of truth” and the “breastplate of righteousness,” and so on. If you Google “armor of God,” you get thousands of images with different ideas of what this armor looks like.

But I wonder if turning a metaphor like “armor of God” into religious clip art misses the point?

The armor of God is really our status as children of God, created, chosen, blessed, adopted, and redeemed by God. This status is who we are, not something we put on and take off when we’re under attack. And we are under attack. The Christian faith is realistic about the spiritual warfare going on all around us.

Eugene Peterson says that G.K.Chesterson once wrote that Christians, in relation to the world around us, are either crustaceans or vertebrates. Crustaceans have their skeletons on the outside; vertebrates have their skeletons on the inside. Crustaceans are solid on the outside, soft on the inside. Vertebrates are soft and vulnerable on the outside, solid on the inside. Peterson says, “It’s not difficult to recognize the higher form of life, Christian crustacean or Christian vertebrate. The armor of God is the embodiment, the internalization of the life of the Trinity—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, word of God—Christ in us.”

The meaning of “armor of God” can best be understood in the church. That’s where we pray and worship and just hang out with other vertebrates like us, who are soft and vulnerable on the outside and solid on the inside.

The quotidian mysteries

Ever since I was little, I dreamed of growing up to do great things. My folks encouraged me to do my best in everything. In every job, every military assignment, I dreamed of making things the best they’d ever been. I really couldn’t imagine how to do things any other way. The bible encourages us in this. Ephesians 6:6 says “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.”

Doing your best is the Christian thing to do, is it not?

I was blessed to be able to take a sabbatical this summer. This meant having the time to reflect on what it truly means to rest. One kind of rest, probably the most important kind, is learning to rest in God.

In preparing for the sabbatical, I read a bunch of books by Presbyterian pastor and author, Eugene Peterson. One of Peterson’s great gifts is his ability to point to the way God works everywhere, in every moment, in everyone and everything. The greatest force in every situation, is not us, but God. This means that seemingly menial, quotidian (routine, daily) work, like doing laundry or taking out the trash, has the same significance before God as, say, curing cancer or building a skyscraper.

Because God is in everything, absolutely everything.

If Peterson is right, and of course he is, it means we can do our best in everything, but it need not kill us, because God is the greatest force in every situation, not us. We have permission to fail, because we know it wasn’t all up to us. And of course, it means that when we do the quotidian things that make up most of life, we can rest in the knowledge that we’re working arm in arm with the God of the Universe.

*The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work,” is the title of a short book by Kathleen Norris.

Bono, Eugene Peterson, and the Psalms

I call this blog “Intersection” and this week’s entry is a good example why. This week, several folks shared with me a video, “Bono and Eugene Peterson on The Psalms.”

Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/1UeTbrM

Eugene Peterson is a Presbyterian pastor and author who is best known for his translation of the Bible called The Message. There are 17 million copies of the message in print. A mentor once told me that Eugene Peterson is a “rock star” among Presbyterian pastors.

In 2002, Bono sent Eugene a video message telling him how much The Message meant to him and to his band, U2. The band would read psalms from The Message before a concert to inspire their performance. Not knowing that Bono really was a world famous rock star, Eugene ignored Bono’s message. But Bono was persistent, and over the years, the two struck up a relationship.

In this 21-minute video, Eugene’s wife, Jan, welcomed Bono into their Montana home by baking cookies. They discovered that they shared a passion for music and poetry, and a love for the way the psalms spoke to the reality of life. Peterson’s translation of the psalms was the inspiration for much of Bono’s music. As Peterson said, “Bono is singing to the very people I did this work for. I feel that we are allies in this. He is helping get me and The Message to the very people Jesus spent much of his time with.”

Bono’s advice to Christian artists is to “Get real,” and to write music that describe life the way it really is. “What God wants from us is the truth.”

 

Resurrection

It always amazes me that we celebrate the resurrection only one day a year.

We go on and about Christmas, but without the resurrection, there would be no Christian faith. Without the resurrection, Jesus would be remembered as a teacher who said some wise things, if he was remembered at all. More likely he would be forgotten, like all the other leaders of messianic movements, (there were lots of them) whose movements died with them.

In his book, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, Eugene Peterson examines how the risen Jesus comes alive in us. Peterson begins by noticing the sense of wonder that’s common to the resurrection accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This wonder is expressed in five ways:

First, the resurrection caught everyone totally unawares. Jesus repeatedly said he would die and be raised on the third day, but nobody believed him. Resurrection is not something we master. We have to let God continue to surprise us.

Second, no one did anything to prepare for the resurrection. No one’s worldview in the first century allowed for a person to be raised from the dead in the middle of history. So Peterson says, “Everyone is a beginner in this business. There are no experts.”

Third, marginal people played a prominent role in the story. In the same way, it will be the poor, minorities, the suffering, the rejected, poets, and children who have the most to teach us about resurrection.

Fourth, the resurrection took place quietly, without publicity or spectators. The changes the risen Jesus wants to make in us will come quietly.

Finally, the most common response to the resurrection was fear. It’s still true with us. We’re afraid when we don’t know what will happen to us, or what God wants to do in us.

Will you allow the risen Jesus to come alive in you?