Questions for Daring to Draw Near

Considering how to invest in staff led us back to John White’s Daring to Draw Near.

Those ten profiles of biblical “people in prayer” from 1977 is still in print with IVPress.

Dyann found reflection and discussion prompts she wrote for a group around 1994.

Now you and others can benefit – as we still do.


my #EatThisBook 2012 Twitter habit

This year, the church I attend with my family has been encouraging biblical literacy and spiritual formation through a daily habit of Bible reading. The Eat This Book discipline is a bold initiative, even for evangelicals. Bolder still is the Eat This Book challenge to read through the Bible in 360 days. The Advent issue of the church magazine included a number of cool stories from the experience. Mine’s not there, not typical and definitely more geeky than most. But who aspires to be average?

My family and I are relatively new to Blackhawk, though we’ve lived in Madison six years. Dy and I are both on staff with InterVarsity and have served together on campus, in a field office, at a retreat and training center and now at the organization’s National Service Center. We’ve enjoyed comparing notes as we Eat This Book.

I’ve read through the Bible before a couple of different ways and looked forward to doing it again, especially with such a large community. I appreciate the posted resources related to the initiative, and it’s been exciting to hear of 38,000+ using the plan on YouVersion (not my favorite Bible app). I’ve not participated in much of the online interaction, though. It seems to me that platform is still in its infancy compared to its potential for promoting biblical literacy through genuinely personal interaction.

To make time and space for digesting the daily text and meditating on it throughout the day, I adopted the practice of tweeting a summary of the non-psalm chapters. For example, one of this fall’s tweets was:

Luke 8-9: Jesus leads and sends a mixed, missional community. They recognize Messiah, but not the path he pursues. +Ps 120 #EatThisBook #fb

A few others use the #EatThisBook hashtag on Twitter; evidently there’s an unrelated Bible study course by that title. A few of the most recent tweets are visible. Mine appear for Facebook friends and are backed up online and offline.

It’s helpful when studying shorter passages to title natural paragraphs in scripture with a few words arising from the text, as part of observing their main features. It’s more challenging to puzzle through the connections within a couple of chapters or more – not always naturally divided – to a summary that fits in 100 characters. But it’s also been tremendously fruitful when God’s Spirit brings insight as things begin to add up. It often takes until evening to sufficiently mull over the collection of themes, characters, actions read or heard in the morning.

As with any spiritual discipline or new habit, it’s most doable when it connects with multiple parts of our personalities and experiences. This one has hooks in my problem-solving bent, enjoyment of complex systems (and text) analysis, amateur wordsmithing, and (borderline Asperger’s) symbiosis with a smartphone. It also helps me practice brevity – not one of my strengths, as you can tell from the length of this post. Thus a daily opportunity to aim for what my team director describes as “crispness” while trying to avoid sounding terse.

I also read aloud the psalm most mornings while some of our family drives to school or work. There are sometimes shared themes between the psalm and the other texts, if I’m alert. Between those times and the tweets, I’ve sensed the Lord renewing my thinking about both the big themes of scripture and the particulars that don’t seem to fit very neatly.

For example, it’s been instructive for me to hear in some of Jesus’ sayings not-so-faint echoes of the prophets’ occasionally harsh words of stinging rebuke. Feeling something of the emotional life of God has been a fresh theme that’s stood out in many passages that I can no longer read without a more whole and human response.

All this to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring more of myself to scripture, reinforce the daily pattern of meeting God in his Word, give space for the Spirit to speak, exercise summarizing skills, and in a bite-sized way sharing the insights God gives. Eat This Book has built my awareness of the overall arc of scripture’s Story. I’m being better equipped to live into and communicate the rich texture and content of God’s whole, living Word.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if any of this is worth further interaction for you.

More certain than…

With flux seeming to dominate the economy and politics, my thoughts have turned to what’s most reliable. One relationship stands out. See if you recognize this paraphrase:

With Yahweh treating me as part of his flock,
what else could I want?
He causes me to stop and relax in meadows where my hunger can be met.
As I follow his initiative, there is ready access to refreshment that satisfies my thirst.
Here I find he’s soulfully renovating my entire life.
He dependably redirects me into patterns that demonstrate right relationships – to honor his character.
I might expect to be anxious when plodding through the depths of extremity,
but malevolent powers’ ultimate threat of death fails to intimidate me because of your constant presence.
The weapon of your just wrath and the instrument of your caring discipline: both reassure my security.
Gracious host, you feast me within plain sight of would-be powers of destruction.
You sooth and renew me head first;
stretching my capacity for satisfaction, there seems to be no end to my tab at your bar.
I have no doubt that such utter integrity and loving kindness will persist through every day I breathe,
and I so look forward to settling permanently into your hospitality,
sharing the same address as Yahweh –
for an eternity.

With apologies to an ancient David – j

t plus 49 years: anniversary observed in absentia

The tenth of October rarely carried the import while the parties were both still around. Tom and Ann (John’s dad and mom) usually celebrated quietly their lengthening partnership. Today we salute them for their steadfastness through the years.

Because of their security in the love of Jesus, neither is finally lost to us, nor to each other. Their love for each other continues to inspire the next generation. – j

spoonerism mania = moonerism spania (and gracious suffering)

Our lives recently seem to have been punctuated by trips to visit family members – well, ailing or worse. Back to that in a moment.

Besides reading our own books and reading one of them aloud, one of the ways we occasionally entertain ourselves is with spoonerisms. I’ve accumulated a small collection from other sources, but sometimes the homegrown variety are the funniest. (We’re still trying to remember Dy’s most recent contribution to the art.) On a van ride earlier this year, we spent over an hour sampling spoonerized fairy tales. A fellow staff member, Mark S., picked up a couple of these while hosting a foreign worker years ago, and shared with our kids – among many others, with similar uproarious results – about the time “Rindercella slopped her dripper.”

Were it not for another family medical crisis unfolding in Florida, along with other factors, at least one of us would be on the road as planned in Indiana this weekend. What was to be a celebration of God’s ongoing work among the colleges and universities there was appropriately postponed as one of the honorees approached death quite painfully. Yesterday her obituary appeared (as I was attempting to write my own as an exercise following chapter 1 of Waters from a Deep Well). It tells just a little of JoAnn’s amazing life and influence, and only hints at the excruciating end. Only a believer in the resurrection guaranteed by Jesus’ own resurrection could be both honest about the pain and solidly hopeful of the ultimate cure. That cure comes (at the latest) with the repacement and restoration of our planet (at least), and our re-creator will not lose us between now and then. Christ-following martyrs most pointedly share such confidence, openly and graciously affirming that “Jesus is Lord” in the face of Roman imperialism gone mad – and many other wanna-be-gods since. You can meet more of them in Jerry Sitser’s latest book.

Meanwhile, it looks like the situation in Florida is headed toward court, against our better judgement. [As usual, the most interesting comments are probably best left offline in my journal.] Suffice it to say: My Florida brother-in-law has survived heart surgery with complications on June 3rd – against all odds – but with few signs since of consciousness and additional difficulties. His wife, my sister, after enduring with us repeated loss recently, would stave off another, whatever the expressed wishes of the other sufferer. On such issues, we “deg to biffer” (to quote Dy out of context). We continue to ask for a miraculous recovery for one or both. Knowing such boons are an overflow of the next age overlapping with this one for a while yet…

Did I mention Dy and I yesterday passed the 21-year mark of marriage? It’s true, and good. – j

one has to laugh…

…you know the rest! Seriously, one of the strangest things that happened to us recently was getting a letter in the mail from the US Treasury to both my (John’s) parents with “DECD” after each of their names. It was the standard explanation of the economic stimulus payment coming their way. (We filed their taxes this year for the first time, after my mom’s passing.) Sure enough, later came the check. We asked our financial advisor and promptly deposited it in a trust account where it belongs.

Something tells me those two saints are stimulating an entirely different economy at the moment, having sent significant riches on ahead. But if they’re aware of the transaction, they got the same chuckle we’ve shared.

Now, how many conversational taboos did I just violate? Note the topical labels – j

crossing cultures on film and beyond

A. and I got to see End of the Spear last weekend after watching the trailers and related video interviews online with the rest of the family. What struck me most tellingly (as it did on that beach fifty years ago) was the way the missionaries modeled both mostly-humble cross-cultural communication (“We are just like you”) but also the self-sacrificing love of their Master. He and they refused to strike back and, even when misunderstood, demonstrated true friendship. And God came through with visible feats that could not help but communicate.

During the funeral scene, as a main indigenous character walked around behind the crowd, I thought one tall, elderly White fellow looked familiar. Later as the credits rolled we saw the reason: Long before appearing in the movie or speaking at the Cedar Campus fiftieth anniversary, Walt Liefeld married one of the martyrs’ widows. A. recalled labeling his audio tapes – that was Cedar’s final season for cassette recordings.

Closer to our new home, Madison’s State Street seems such a cross-section of campus and world cultures. Ethnic eateries generously sprinkle several blocks, alongside niche retailers and Midwestern mainstays. This updated version of Main Street attracts much of the city’s variety, drawing from the state capital on one end and the student union at the other. Last weekend we walked its length to visit the Children’s Museum, in Sunday outfits against the blowing cold. I look forward to more leisurely and enjoyable future surveys of this created diversity. – j