Review: Luminous


Luminous, T. David Beck. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Summary: Explores how purpose, presence, power and peace enable us to radiate the light of Christ in our everyday lives.

“Jesus never intended his people to sit in neat rows like drones on Sunday mornings, or even to fill up our schedules doing things for him because we think he would like them. He wants relationship—such a close relationship, in fact, that he actually shines through us. That’s how he wants to show the world who he is.”

It was to this conviction that David Beck came after a life-changing mission trip to Haiti when he had the opportunity to save the life of a sick child he had been looking after in a feeding program. This led him to a fresh embrace of the truth that living the Christian life was not a matter of living for Jesus but with him, in which his presence becomes luminous in our lives.

In this book, Beck traces the formational practices that position us to shine with the light of Christ under four words: purpose, presence, power, and peace. First of all in chapter two he talks about embracing the missional purpose of Jesus and to keep saying “yes” to that purpose in a life of ever deepening surrender. Chapters 3 through 5 explore the idea of presence with God, our bodies, and each other. Striking here to me is that Beck joins a growing number of those who stress the importance of affirming our embodied life and the practices of offering that life to God.

Chapters 6 through 8 focus on power. There is paradox here as he talks about the power of surrender and the power of humility in the first two of these chapters. Yet the surrender is indeed empowering as we surrender our tyrannous selves to the God who can free us, as we relinquish prideful control to be receptive and available to God. All this opens us to the empowering presence of the Spirit of God, which he discusses in chapter 8. This may make some uncomfortable with its openness to Pentecostalism and yet focuses on the essential that life- and light-giving ministry must be in the power of the Spirit. He affirms a simple, wait-receive-go pattern to ministry.

Chapter 9 then speaks of a peace or shalom that re-frames evangelism as compassion that draws people into conversation about Jesus, mercy that models the mercy of God toward all, and justice that seeks the liberation of people from spiritual as well as physical oppression. The book then concludes with the challenge to accept trials and a life of simplicity in a high contrast life of light in darkness.

One of the most helpful aspects of the book are pauses at the end of almost every section to reflect and act upon the content of each section and prayer exercises at the end of most chapters. What separates this book from many books on mission and many books on spiritual formation is how it unites the two of these at a very personal, and not merely theoretical level. Yet this makes so much sense. Mission is leading people into encounters with the living, risen Christ and how can this occur if He is not indeed living within us?


Going Deeper: Peace Be With You

“Shalom”, the Hebrew word for “peace”

Our pastor (Rich) made the statement this past Sunday, “that when we show up what we need to do before anything else is bring peace.” He rooted this statement in the observation that three times in Jesus’s resurrection appearances in John 20, he says, “peace be with you.” In two instances it is the first thing Jesus says (John 20: 19, 26).

Rich went on to talk about the fact that Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they had nothing to fear from him. I suspect they weren’t too sure of that. Someone coming back from the dead can be a bit scary. Then there’s the matter of how they acted during his arrest and crucifixion. They were not exactly the poster children for loyalty or courage.

Instead, Jesus said “peace”, or “shalom”, the way Jews greeted each other and expressed their wish for wholeness and health on the life and home of the one they were addressing. It’s what Jesus taught his disciples to say when they came to a town bringing the good news and needed a place to stay. Rich proposed that “we could do worse than simply, everywhere we ever go, say and do whatever lines up with ‘Peace be with you.’ Our reputation in the world would change.”

It is troubling to me that people are fearful of their encounters with church people. But the truth is they are often expecting a judgment, a criticism, or an argument.  It strikes me that it could be a radical thing if instead, what they found in us were people who genuinely wanted them to find peace, wholeness, and health–all the things wrapped up in shalom.

It would be interesting to experiment with that for a week. I can think of some interesting ways to go about that:

  • What about closing our emails with “peace” or “peace be with you” (or “PBWY” on our texts!)?
  • What about writing “peace be with you” on our check at a restaurant along with a generous tip?
  • What about greeting each other at the beginning of our days with these words spoken gently, perhaps bearing a cup of coffee?
  • What about offering to pray for or even with (if they are comfortable) a friend who is stressed that they might experience God’s peace?

You get the idea. I would love to hear other ideas you come up with to say and do “peace be with you”.

Rich also made the point that for us to be that in the world, we need to start by practicing this with each other:

But I think in some ways it has to be our self-talk, too. When we come together, for whatever reason, our first stance, our first words, our basic orientation toward each other needs to be “Peace be with you.” Don’t be afraid, don’t be worried. Be at peace. Be at rest. Be yourself, and let me be myself, and let’s not be anxious about anything, for God is with us.

Churches aren’t always peaceful places. People coming from harried, busy lives may encounter messages that basically say, “you need to do more, give more, pray more” when maybe the first invitation we might give each other is to rest, to enjoy peace, to revel in silence, or the beauty of a song of praise. What a beautiful thing it can be for someone to ask, “where do you need the peace of God in your life right now?” What if board meetings began this way with prayer for one another to know the shalom of Jesus? And might it be the case that when people are at peace, then they can hear the empowering word of Jesus that infuses doing with joy!

On a personal note, I want to extend a “peace be with you” to our pastor as he begins a three month sabbatical. Rich, you labored hard these past seven years bringing peace and a new sense of hope to a troubled church through your week in, week out teaching and presence among us. Often it has meant bearing the burdens of others. May you know the peace of the Lord in rest, in quietness, in the simple richness of shared life with your family, in times of reflection, in all the warp and woof of your lives these next months. May the peace of the Lord be with you!

Review: Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities

Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities
Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities by Rick Love
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” So began a song that I learned in elementary school. Peace. It is what every beauty pageant contestant wants. We award huge prizes each year to those who work for peace. Yet despite our deep and seemingly universal longing for peace, we live in strife and conflict torn families, organizations, and local, national, and international communities.

Rick Love is so hopeful that peace can be brought into conflict situations that he leads an organization, Peace Catalysts International, that engages in peacemaking efforts between Christians and Muslims. His book begins with his own peacemaking journey from conflicts in an organization he led to his growing understanding of biblical peacemaking and a vision for how this might be applied in various spheres of life.

He roots the peacemaking strategies he teaches in biblical premises: the God of peace, the peace of God, the gospel of peace, and our call to be peacemakers. He then elaborates eight peacemaking practices of peace catalysts: praying for peace, pursuing peace with all, taking responsibility, loving reproof, accepting reproof from others, asking for forgiveness, forgiving others, and loving your enemies. Under this last, he challenges us particularly around the love of those the church has the hardest time loving: those in the LGBT community, illegal immigrants, and Muslims. He particularly argues that the large majority of Muslims are not terrorists but people like us who are seeking a peaceful existence.

The book goes on to provide practical instructions in mediation with a case study of James and the conflict about Gentiles in the church in Acts, and instruction in team conflict, looking at the rivalries among the disciples in Mark 10. In this chapter, he introduces the very helpful idea of written memos of understanding when a team works out specific resolutions to a conflict and provides a format for these memos.

The last part of the book looks at how peace catalysts spread peace through social peacemaking between groups often alienated from each other and in recognizing six spheres of peacemaking: personal, interpersonal, social, urban, national, and international. I found identifying the sphere of cities particularly helpful with its ideas of seeking common good in a city.

At the end of the book are several appendices with ideas for peacemaking, seven steps to loving reproof, a peace catalyst manifesto, a grace and truth affirmation for Christian-Muslim relationships, and a discussion of the just peacemaking (as opposed to either pacifism or just war) paradigm.

What I most appreciated about this book was how it moved again and again from biblical principle to practice in very concrete ways. I also appreciated the grace and truth emphasis in peacemaking that both seeks common ground and mutual interests in love without compromising gospel integrity, the rule of law, and without covering up real offenses and issues of justice that must be faced.

It is fitting to write this review on the last day of the outgoing year. Each New Year’s, we long that this will be the year without new conflicts and one where old conflicts are mended. We long for a better world. But peace will not come in our families, our cities, or on the world scene without the practice of the nitty-gritty peacemaking principles and the hard but important work outlined in Love’s book.

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Learning in Peace-Time?

This morning I had a chance to re-read C. S. Lewis’s “Learning in War-Time?”, a sermon he gave at the outset of World War II.  He made the observation at one point that it is never the case actually in war that we focus only on war.  He writes, “Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae.” In other words, we will always be thinking of the significant (and commonplace!) matters of life.  He goes on to argue that if we suspend serious intellectual and cultural activity in such times, we will only replace it with worse–“if you don’t read good books, you will read bad ones.”  All of this is part of his encouragement to those whose calling is student during the war.

I equally wonder about the question of learning in peace-time?  War in some ways raises really important spiritual and philosophical questions.  When we are at peace, we often are more inclined to think about where will we eat? What movie will we see this weekend? Will I buy this shirt or that? What I wonder about in these times is whether our comfort and relative affluence results if anything in our being more distracted by the commonplace and content with the banal? When it seems that “life is good” do we resist the demanding intellectual and aesthetic work required to break new intellectual and aesthetic ground?

Lewis as a Christian appeals to a basic Christian precept of “doing all to the glory of God.”  He contends that this does not mean forcing all intellectual life to be “spiritually edifying” in some way.  Rather, he writes:

I mean the pursuit of knowledge and beauty, in a sense, for their own sake, but in a sense which does not exclude their being for God’s sake. An appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so.”

Lewis reminds me that we all have appetites for the good, the true, and the beautiful.  What the passion for God’s glory in our work does is encourage us to give these to the best and most worthy things–to read (and write) good books rather than bad. We often talk around the educational world of “lifelong learning.”  One of the questions that I often wonder about is what drives us to continue to learn, to grow, to change?