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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: kingdom

I got a job

Ben Goshow

This is my big news. I'm officially employed (15 hours/week). This does NOT change my intention to write. In fact, I'm hoping the work I do enhances what I write.

I find there is a delicate balance to the writing life. On the one hand, you can let life get so surly that it forces you to relinquish the discipline of quiet so critical to the writing life. You become too busy to attend to the deeper questions and curiosities that (well, at least for me) drive these words. On the other hand, you get become so isolated in search of quiet that you have little to nothing to say. You wax eloquent about real world problems when the only real world you experience is the view from your desk into your backyard. (Annie Dillard once explained that writers write so often about their childhood because it's the only "real" experience they can remember having.)

I suppose I didn't need a job to keep my life from getting too isolated. And true, there is little fear that I have too much quiet in my life, at least not now, not with summer days and a house full of children who's newest game is running through the house, using the intercom system on our cordless phones to play a version of hide-and-seek where the ultimate goal is to keep hidden from the five-year-olds.

And still, I need my writing life to find a backbone of praxis, or practice, which can give these words meaning. God forbid I dole out advice that I myself refuse to follow. God forbid I become the noisy gong or clanging cymbal of the blogosphere that has fallen in love with the sound of her voice and forgotten the real reason we ever speak at all. God forbid I write and forget to love.

If I want to continue writing (and I do), I've decided I need life in its most robust sense: people and their problems, a network of relational obligations, a team to which I contribute. If I want to write (and I do), I have to connect myself profoundly with Christ's body, resisting every virulent strain of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. If I want to write (and I do), I need to fight the lurking arrogance of needing no one.

I can't write alone.

I need the church.

And so it is that I've joined the staff at my church as Children's Ministry Director: the circumstances were providential. If there's time this week, I'll detail them more specifically. But let me simply say taking this job feels beautiful and prophetic and reassures me that I learned something as I wrote my book, Teach Us to Want. I've argued there that praying the Lord's Prayer forms in us holy desire for God and his kingdom. I've written that book - and found that I've grown more deeply into my love for Christ and His church. Thank you, Father. That will have been worth it.

I'll except from the manuscript in closing today.

"To live in and for kingdom is an grace-inspired effort to recycle the blessings of God, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10, 11). Living for the kingdom can be as simple as the willingness to extend a cup of cold water to whomever God wills, and the gospel can be reenacted in our small acts of love .

 The kingdom test—is what I want good?—centers less on the content of what we do. Each of us can live kingdom lives as plumbers and preachers, mothers and writers. A more helpful criterion may be intention: whose name? whose glory? Kingdom is for Jesus, to Jesus, in Jesus, and with Jesus. It’s the way out of Babylon.

And even though each of us has a role to play in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, it does not ever fully depend on us - thank God. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). The kingdom is established by God’s work, not ours. We’re just invited to play.

And playing—and praying for the kingdom to come—we learn to want it when it arrives."

Living into the chapter I've recently drafted (and something new happening with the Michels)

I hope my editor isn’t reading this. He won’t be keen on the idea that the sixth chapter of my book is now 6800 words, especially when we’d agree that each chapter would be 6000 words in length. Can I defend my indiscretion by saying that one cannot possible hope to write about the kingdom of Jesus Christ in so few words? The proverbial too-big bite of content: I’ve darn bit it off, chewed it up, and swallowed it.

But I will say that “Chapter 6: Project Kingdom: Good News to Inspire Desire” has been a good chapter to write. And I guess if I were to say it most simply, I’d argue this: when we pray, your kingdom come, your will be done, we are being formed into the desire for God’s rule in our lives.

Don’t be fooled: this is an extremely dangerous way to pray – because kingdom will involve you. Frederick Buechner says this in his book, Whistling in the Dark:

'Thy will be done' is what we are saying. That is the climax of the first half of the prayer. We are asking God to be God. We are asking God to do not what we want but what God wants. We are asking God to make manifest the holiness that is now mostly hidden, to set free in all its terrible splendour the devastating power that is not mostly under restraint. 'Thy kingdom come. . . on earth' is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcome in and who would be thrown the Hell out? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be phony as three-dollar bills? Boldness indeed. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.”

Praying for God’s kingdom to come is to effectively surrender yourself to the divine draft: you’re going to be plucked up for service, and this is going to force you from your comfortable familiarities into the realm of risk.

Which isn’t the same thing as saying you’re on your way towards doing something grand. In fact, quite the opposite. You are, in actual fact, willing yourself to become small.

That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the method of kingdom. Down is up. Least is greatest.

And calling is more ordinary and inconspicuous than you originally are inclined think.

Here’s an example, a story I haven’t told and can’t fully tell because it isn’t my own.

It belongs to my nephew. And I’m sure there will be time to tell it more fully and more completely – later.

His father – my brother – died when he was only two. I tell more of that story here if you’re interested in more background.

I suppose you can imagine that losing one’s father - in that way and so young – wounds a person deeply, profoundly.

And we’ve watched my nephew grow up into that woundedness. How long have I wanted hope written into those places of pain? His whole life, I think I have been praying for redemption, which is to say that I have asked this of God:

Jesus Christ, make something good of all this evil!

Last summer and into the fall, our family began praying about having my nephew come and live with us when he graduated from high school. Not knowing exactly what that would look like or what the future held for him, we extended to him this invitation – which he accepted with the blessing of his mother.

Home had been providentially arranged long before he had the news.

Stomach cancer. She has two months to live.

My nephew’s mother died on April 4. He is now alone – and not. Because tomorrow, two of the children and I drive to West Virginia to watch him graduate from high school and to bring him here to Toronto.

How good is God? This is something I cannot help but ask. I know we live in a world that is ridiculously tortured by senseless evil. Moore, Oklahoma – this is our most recent example. And I, like everyone else, sometimes wonder where God is in all the mess. Why does he seem to be standing idly by?

But my nephew’s story reminds me that he is not indifferent to our pain. I think God is in the midst of answering some of the prayers we have long been praying for my nephew. I think he’s going to do something good. And I trust him, even as I feel ill-equipped for the task of participating in his redemptive work.

The chapter on kingdom is drafted, on the eve of leaving to get my nephew. It serves to remind me: live into these words.

By the unfailing, steadfast, persistent grace of God, I think I’ll try.





Raccoon-phobia: And what I'm learning from Jeremiah

I am terrified of raccoons. I suppose it began the day when one greeted me from inside my garbage can. I lifted the lid to find a masked bandit burrowing in the trash. And as is true with Toronto raccoons, they scare us far worse than we scare them. Ryan recently relayed a story typical of their nonchalance: several weeks ago, he was outside in the late afternoon when one casually sauntered down the driveway toward the backyard. Had the raccoon been able to speak, Ryan imagined he would have announced, "Honey, I'm home!"

What has any of this to do with what I've been reading in the Bible recently?

Nothing except that I'd left my One Year Bible in the car several days in a row, and in order to retrieve it in the dark hours of early morning, I would have to chance an encounter with a racoon.

So I didn't.

Clearly I'm no candidate for martyrdom.

But I did remember that I was in the book of Jeremiah and decided to continue reading there - from a Bible that was safely shelved in my family room.

God's Word has been speaking to me through the book of Jeremiah in ways that are timely and relevant. I marvel at how this happens: that I land at a certain passage, and its providential counsel speaks directly into a situation I'm facing.

Jeremiah is a prophet asked by God to preach hellfire and brimstone. Judah is soon to be exiled, and he's tolling the warning - except no one cares and there are a host of other prophets announcing peace and prosperity whom the people would much prefer to believe.

It isn't as if Jeremiah is always impervious to persecution and threats and hatred. He begs for his life. He pleads for God to intervene. He commiserates that such is his task.

Jeremiah is human, not bionic man: there is real sadness and despair and fear in the midst of doing what God has clearly called him to do. But what you sense is the open dialogue he shares with God - that it is to God he always returns and finds safety and further courage to keep advancing.

"If you have raced with men on foot, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?" Jeremiah 12:5

When God calls us to participation, we shouldn't imagine that it will be easy, that our movement forward will be unobstructed, that we will feel perpetual joy and peace as we work for the kingdom. No - that is the wide road.

And that's not the one that we travel.

Do something for God, and remember that it will always, always require of you COURAGE. And you don't get courage handed to you in a vat, as if all you needed was to ladle it out and drink it up when the situation demanded for it. You get courage in the form of a Person, who is the Holy Spirit. He walks with us, resides within us: He's closer than our breath.

He is always near, hemming us above and behind and around.

"I will make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls . . . they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you." Jeremiah 1:18

There are so many forms of courage that we need as God's people: relational courage: to forgive and be forgiven, to speak truth and to receive it back in kind; moral courage: to do what is right and defend what is right; spiritual courage: to offer to God and to others whatever breeds from our faith; vocational courage: to work as if we were working for the LORD, not for men and woman; emotional courage: to stick it out in the dark places of self-doubt.

I have no doubt that you need courage today. I do. And I have no doubt that we need it because God's calling is usually bigger than us. God invites us into jobs that only He can do.

And faith grows in that kind of partnership.

"And without faith it is impossible to please God." Hebrews 11:6





Participation in The Holy: Eugene Peterson on Calling

Eugene Peterson should be writing this blog. The first chance I have to meet him, I'll suggest it. But until then, you're stuck with me - or, on better days, me quoting Eugene Peterson. I found myself re-reading The Jesus Way this past weekend. It's probably my favorite of his spiritual theology series. He writes two chapters on the book of Isaiah, which is an unfamiliar book for most of us. The One Year Bible took me back to Isaiah recently, and I'm loving it. It's a book full of imagery and forces a confrontation with God's holiness.

I went back to The Jesus Way, wanting to revisit Peterson's reflections on this prophet and prophecy. And what do you know? I also found some really appropriate quotes on calling, especially as Peterson reflects on Isaiah 6, which pictures Isaiah transfixed in a vision of God. Isaiah encounters God seated on a throne. The angels' chorus overhead sounds, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" The foundations of the temple shake, and Isaiah is undone by a sense of guilt. "Woe is me! I am lost ; I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!" The angel purifies his lips with a coal taken from the altar of burnt offering, and God then asks, "Whom shall we send? Who will go for us?" Immediately, Isaiah answers: "Here I am: send me."

There may be no better passage to examine the nature of calling.

First, Peterson notes the characteristic of God's calling: "God speaks vocationally; there is work to be done." I've tried to say many times here that we have to root our calling in the finished work of Christ. We add nothing to this. But certainly, it is also true that calling is an obedient response to God and an expressed willingness to be used by God. There is work involved in our calling. God does not need us, true. But God has chosen to use us, the church. We are the hands and feet of Christ. And I think that's what Peterson is saying here. We have a certainty that God speaks when we are moved into service.

Several paragraphs later, Peterson continues:

"Participation in The Holy is complex business; but these elements in various orders and proportions, seem to be normative (and here, he excerpts from Isaiah's vision in chapter 6):

The abolition of self-sufficiency ("Woe to me, for I am lost")

The experience of merciful forgiveness (The live coal: "Your guilt is taken away")

God's invitation to servant work ("Whom shall I send?")

The human response of becoming present to God in faith and obedience ("Here am I, send me!").

I can think of no exceptions in Scripture or church in which these elements are not present, whether explicitly or implicitly."

Peterson is formulating the typical architecture of God's call. And while I (and he, I'm sure) would grant that God uniquely speaks to each individual person, the stories of divine encounter share common materials. And you notice how the whole house would topple if one element were eliminated.

If, for example, we were volunteering for service to God without the abolition of self-sufficiency,  we would learn soon enough that every job God gives is too big and we are too inadequate. When that happens later rather than sooner in calling, it can be a source of despair. When it happens at the outset, it casts us upon God's grace to work in and through us.

If, for example, we did not continually live mindful of God's mercies granted to us, we would suffer from the perpetual shame and self-recrimination that our inadequacies force upon us. But if, however, we remember that in Christ, sin is forgiven and guilt abolished, we have new courage for calling. It does not root itself in our performance but in Christ's.

If we never hear God's invitation to servant work, we can easily be lulled into believing that God means to give us the good life. There's certainly no reason then for shouldering any responsibility for the brokenness of the present world.

And if we have a sense of inadequacy, if we have received forgiveness, even if we have heard God calling for volunteers but have never signed up for service, we are sitting on the sidelines when we should be in the game.

As always, I'm grateful for Eugene Peterson's faithfulness to Scripture and clear thinking. And here are four questions we might ask ourselves in reflecting on the four dimensions of calling:

1. Have I confronted the reality of my own personal sinfulness and inadequacy?

2. Do I continually receive the forgiveness of God offered to me freely through Christ?

3. Am I aware of God's invitation to join Him in His work?

4. Have I expressed willingness to participate in the kingdom?