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- Audible.com Release Date: May 16, 2017
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- Language: English
- ASIN: B071QXT5S3
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As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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I knew little about the book when I pre-ordered it in November. When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at its length, 372 pages. In the opening letter to the reader, I was also surprised to discover that the book was a collection of 49 teachings from Peterson's 29 years as a pastor. The editorial team wrote, "Throughout this definitive collection of teachings, Peterson is intentional in keeping the main idea the main idea: that we, as Christians, live lives of congruence. Put another way, that the inside matches the outside. Or as we used to hear, that we indeed practice what we preach." Congruence is a good descriptor.
The 49 sermons were broken into seven parts. Each part contained seven sermons centered around the writings of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon (save one about Job), Peter, Paul, and John. The sermons cover the ground between Genesis 1 and the end of John's Revelation.
Through his books, Peterson has reinforced several themes for me: the importance of prayer, the sacredness of the ordinary, and the the beauty of the Word, expressed through words. Each of these themes found their way into the pages of Kingfishers.
Although I love words, I fail to capture meaning and beauty the way Peterson so consistently does. My hope is that sharing a few of his words whets your appetite for more.
^Regarding the Sabbath--"One day a week stop what you are doing and pay attention to what God has been and is doing" (page 13).
^"We are always drifting off into the impersonal. It is easier and less demanding. But it is also demeaning and estranging. Always and everywhere in Scripture our attention is brought back to the central fact: God is a person; God makes persons; God remakes persons. A person like me" (p. 25).
^"We live in a culture that knows little or nothing of a life that listens and waits, a life that attends and adores" (p. 77).
^From my favorite chapter, The Beauty of Holiness, "Beauty is the outside and holiness is the inside of what is essentially the same thing: life full and vibrant, life God created and God blessed, life here and now" (p. 78).
^"We read and live at different speeds" (p. 158).
^"A critical question every Christian has to deal with is 'How can I best assist others to a full, mature growth in the Christian way?'" (p. 189).
^"International diplomacy takes time and careful listening. Parenting takes time and careful listening. Friendship takes time and careful listening. And Scripture takes time and careful listening" (p. 236).
^"You think religion is a matter of knowing things and doing things. It is not. It is a matter of letting God do something for you: letting Him love you, letting Him save you, letting Him bless you, letting Him command you. Your part is to look and believe, to pray and obey" (p. 291).
^"I want to know that the nitty-gritty of my life is taken seriously by the gospel, not just the state of my soul. I don't want a religion of neat little slogans about sunsets and heartthrobs. I want something practical that gets into the working parts of my life" (p. 303).
^"If Jesus makes it into our daily behavior, observers will begin to think there might be something to this after all" (p. 307).
^"In Christ we see the putting to death of self, the killing of self-centeredness, the crucifixion of the ego" (p. 310).
Once again, Peterson has instructed me in the Jesus way, showing me with thoughtful prose the beauty of Jesus and of a life lived with him.
Then three things happened. First, he realized he didn’t know how to preach. What he was doing on Sunday morning was “whipping up enthusiasm” for the church’s programs, not preaching for the “nurturing of souls.”
Second, he heard a lecture by Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician, who treated patients not from a “consulting room” but from his “living room,” using “words…in a setting of personal relationship.” In his lecture, Tournier exhibited what Peterson calls a “life of congruence, with no slippage between what he was saying and the way he was living.”
Third, he came across a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” whose last stanza reads:
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
In Hopkins’ poetic vision, it is Jesus Christ who “lives and acts in us in such ways that our lives express the congruence of inside and outside, this congruence of ends and means.” These three things — pulpit, lecture, poem — came together and shaped Peterson’s understanding and practice of ministry, first as a pastor, then as a writer and professor.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons Peterson first preached at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church during nearly thirty years of ministry there (1962–1991). The sermons are divided into seven groups, each grouped together with the formula, “Preaching in the Company of _____,” where the fill-in-the-blank is Moses (the Law), David (Psalms), Isaiah (the Prophets), Solomon (Wisdom literature), Peter (the Gospels), Paul (the Epistles), and John (the Johannine literature). Throughout, Peterson strives to “enter into the biblical company of prototypical preachers and work out of the traditions they had developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
The result is a master class in what Scripture says about the pastoral care of souls. Peterson eschews the notions that spirituality can be pursued apart from everyday life or that it can be sought without the company of others. Instead, as he writes in a characteristic passage:
"It is somewhat common among people who get interested in religion or God to get proportionately disinterested in their jobs and families, their communities and their colleagues. The more of God, the less of the human. But that is not the way God intends it. Wisdom [literature] counters this tendency by giving witness to the precious nature of human experience in all its forms, whether or not it feels or appears ‘spiritual’” (emphasis in original).
This isn’t to deny that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Scripture reading, and corporate worship are vital. But, Peterson is saying, unless those disciplines make us better workers, family members, neighbors and friends, we haven’t yet achieved the congruence of life to which Scripture bears witness: persons who act in God’s eye what in God’s eye we are, that is, “Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20).
This is not a book I would recommend to some pastors. For example, if you’re looking for a book that gives you a fool-proof three-step process to ______ (whatever it is that you’re trying to do), skip this one. Or if you’re looking on Saturday night for a three-point sermon you can preach the next morning, don’t read this. Peterson’s sermons are ongoing conversations, not plug-and-play outlines.
However, if you’re tossed about by the winds of the times or you’re tired of slapping Bible verses on business principles or if your ministry lacks congruence between the means of discipleship and the ends of Christlikeness, please read this book. It will feed your soul, and through you, the souls of your congregation.
Then read it again.