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Bob Trube2For some of us, our experience of reading the Bible seems to vacillate between these two extremes. Sometimes we see amazing things about God and God’s purposes and the human experience that catch us up in wonder. And sometimes, we are just plain perplexed and confused as we read and try to figure out, “what is this about?”

My title though has a particular reference to what we’ve been considering in our church’s study of John’s Gospel. Often the book is divided into two parts: The Book of Signs (John 1-12) and The Book of Glory (John 13-20 or 21 if you include the epilogue). The first part consists of Seven Signs that are meant to help persuade us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (cf John 20:31). The second part concerns the final events of Jesus life and passion, in which John sees Jesus being glorified. Five chapters (13-17) consist of a lengthy talk and prayer that at first reading may seem confusing, even if there are some glimpses of glory along the way.

An example of both is John 13:31-32. Judas has just left to betray Jesus and here’s what follows:

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

There is definitely some glory in there but also some fairly convoluted sentences. There is a good deal of this kind of thing in these chapters. It is not my intent to unravel all this here but rather to remind those of us in our church what our pastor said about working through this material, which might be helpful for others who find themselves confused either in John’s gospel or other parts of scripture.

1.What Jesus says is worth our attention! Right before this section, Jesus reminds his followers:

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. (John 12:49-50)

If Jesus is saying just what the Father wants him to say and these commands lead to eternal life, careful attention is warranted!

2. A good way to pay attention is to read (and re-read) before our messages. That’s not a bad way to pay attention for one thing. Also, even if we can’t figure it all out–it will prepare us to hear the word explained in our Sunday messages. This is just good sense in general and a good argument for knowing ahead of time what texts of scripture will be preached on so we can read, pray, and be working with our pastor to understand what God is saying. Rich even gave us a schedule–so no excuses!

3. The third thing that Rich shared is to reflect. The questions he gave us are good for this section, and maybe more generally as well.

  • How does my belief in Jesus affect my daily life?
  • How well am I doing at loving?
  • How well am I doing at obeying?

Believing, loving, and obeying are pretty basic stuff–basic but also challenging! I will never in this life get beyond believing, loving, and obeying. I often want the new and exciting. But if I’ve seen anything in John, it is in these things that we find life in Jesus. We’ve learned that our healing is in our obedience. In the man born blind, we saw that believing was seeing for him–the more he believed, the more he saw.

So, where will you make time this week to pay attention to Jesus, to read and re-read what he says, and reflect on how well you are believing, loving and obeying? Can you take time this week to read over on your own the text from either last week’s message in church, or the one for the week to come? Are there some others you can talk with about this stuff?

If’s funny how many times I listen to messages and forget what I heard before I get to the parking lot! If nothing else, Going Deeper helps me keep reflecting on how what I’ve heard should affect my belief and my behavior. I hope that for all of us, that we can be not only hearers of the word but doers (James 1:22). That would be glorious!

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” 

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Nouwen’s work Life of The Beloved is a long reflection on the Emmaus Road scene at the end of Luke’s Gospel. Nouwen sees, in Jesus’ breaking of the bread at the end of Luke and his self-understanding as God’s Beloved,  a pattern for our own way of life in the world. It was meant as a sort of Apology (a defense) of the Christian faith for a good friend; the friend found it unconvincing, but many, many others have been touched by this book of Henri Nouwen’s. He wrote this, near the end of his work:

As those whoa re chosen, blessed, broken and given, we are called to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. it is the life of the Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved. 

But what of the other side of it all? What of our desire to build a career, our hope for success and fame and our dream of making a name for ourselves? is that to be despised? Are these aspirations in opposition to the spiritual life? 

Some people might answer “Yes” to that question and counsel you to leave the fast pace of the big city and look for a milieu where you can pursue the spiritual life without restraints. But I don’t think that that’s your way. I don’t believe that your place is in a monastery or…the solitude of the countryside. I would say, even, that the city with its challenges is not such  bad place for you and your friends. There is stimulation, excitement, movement and a lot to see, hear, taste, and enjoy. The world is only evil when you become its slave. The world has a lot to offer–just as Egypt did for the children of Jacob–as long as you don’t feel bound to obey it. The great struggle facing you is not to leave the world, to reject your ambitions and aspirations or to despise money, prestige or success, but to claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it…

I believe deeply that all the good things our world has to offer are yours to enjoy. But you can enjoy them truly only when you can acknowledge them as affirmations of the truth that you re the Beloved of God…. That truth will allow you to receive the gifts you receive from your society and celebrate life. But that truth will also allow you to let go of what distracts you, confuses you and puts in jeopardy the life of the Spirit within you. 

We look forward to Holy Week now. Palm Sunday is soon, and with it the reminder of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the last week of his life before resurrection. So much of Lent is about denial, about remembering our mortality and our dependance on God. This passage emphasizes the latter, while denying the former; it felt appropriate, somehow. A counter-note to that which we’ve been singing.

What do you think of what Nouwen says here? How do we accomplish “living in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it?”

(Buy this book–for you or a friend–at http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0824519868/186-3099699-8535739)

Everything Matters

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Bob Trube2Rich, in his concluding message in the series on “The Christian and…” this past Sunday began the sermon with the assertion that everything we do as Christians matters and ended with the question, “does my life matter or not?” My immediate response to this is “of course!” And it makes me wonder why we have spent a whole summer considering as a church how all of life matters and how becoming more like Christ relates to every aspect of our lives. It seems to me that this should be as plain as the nose on my face.

Except that it isn’t.

Why is that? I think there are two reasons. The first is one basic to our nature as fallen creatures whose ingrained habit of living is to close God out of our lives except when we are really desperate. There is a part of me that resists God’s gracious overtures to make sense out of my life and to fashion me into a “little Christ” who is at the same time the unique person God intends me to be. Sometimes, the visceral response to these overtures is one of “sez who?” or maybe slightly more politely, “I can do it myself”. Sometimes I even pursue the really mixed up strategy of trying to meet the radical demands of following Jesus without his radical help. Call it being the male macho cowboy or whatever you will, I keep wanting to limit the places I let Jesus  into when he in fact is saying, “it all matters to me”. Too often, I only realize this only when I royally screw up!

The other reason is an external one. The “water we swim in” is a society that has made sharp divisions between public and private, secular and sacred that confines the expression of our faith to the private parts of life. Have you noticed how some recent public discourse no longer talks about freedom of religion but “freedom of worship?” There is a subtle message in this that says, “you may practice your faith in the privacy of your home, your car, and your church, but don’t let it intrude into any part of public life.”

In the university setting where I work, I sometimes ask graduate students if they ever stop to pray when confronted with a tough research problem or give thanks when they have a breakthrough. Do they pray about a seminar in which they will present, or for students as they grade their papers or prepare for office hours? Sometimes, I’m confronted by a blank stare that says, “I never thought of this before.” I suspect at least part of this is that we are all tempted to “go into secular mode” when we arrive at work.

Rich’s “principles and practices” seemed to me to offer helpful ways to lives as someone for whom everything matters that deal both with my resistance to following Jesus and with the false dichotomy between sacred and secular in our society. He challenged us to the principles of an integrity where the private and public part of our lives are consistent with each other, to be wise in recognizing that Christ does not call us to a life that defies the capacities and competencies he has given us, to allow Christ rather than the cultures of family, workplace, community or even church to shape us, and to rely on the resources of God in scripture, Spirit, and Christian community to live Christ-shaped lives. And he challenged us to the practices of examining our use of our time and claiming it for what matters, to creating routines that sustain us, to being defined in relationship to Christ rather than giving our identities to persons or forces like our jobs to shape us, and to live attentively.

This last one has seemed particularly important to me. Dallas Willard often advised those who sought his advice on living well to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from their lives. Hurry seems to me to be what keeps me from living attentively to both my insides and my external circumstances and the life Jesus is inviting me into in all of life. When I am hurrying through my life, I stop asking questions like “is this something that really matters to Jesus, something he wants me to do?”, “how does this matter to Jesus?”, “how might I act as someone whose life and character matters to Jesus?”

Reality for followers of Jesus is that our lives and everything we do in our bodies in this life matter deeply to him. It seems that it all comes down to whether we will live in the shadow worlds of secularity and human rebellion or the bright and good reality of Jesus where everything in our lives matters.

 

 

Alone…And Not Alone

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As a petulant child, I can remember saying “leave me alone!” Yet I might have silently added in my head, “but not too long.” This Sunday, Pastor Rich talked about the Christian alone and how rare it actually is to be alone. Some of this has to do with the myriad distractions in our lives–our work, families, and an ever more ubiquitous technology. The latter is sometimes a paradox as we are connected to the world digitally and more socially cut off than ever.

Bob Trube2

Alone often seems to equate with loneliness. And yet sometimes I’ve felt most lonely in a crowd of people, and not at all lonely by myself. What is harder though is being alone, and unplugged. For ten seconds, there is the blessed silence of alone–and then the thoughts come. Sometimes it is recalling a task that I need to accomplish and it is relatively easy to add that to a “to do” list and return to silence. Sometimes it can be a fairly constructive process of mentally chewing over a problem or thinking through an upcoming presentation and beginning to experience the gelling of my thoughts.

What can be harder are some of the other kinds of thoughts. At least for me, and this may reveal my own dysfunctionality, the thoughts can be of shortcomings or failings–the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” kind of accusations that remind me that I could be a better person than I am. Or it can be thoughts of the tempting sort as I become aware of hunger and other desires. No wonder it is easy to open up the computer or turn on the radio.

What sometimes seems to help is remembering that I am alone…and not alone. I am not just with my thoughts but with the God who knows my thoughts, and neither runs away in horror or hammers me into oblivion. Instead he invites me to confess them, the word “confess” meaning “to agree with.” Somehow, acknowledging my failings, my frustrations, my desires, my anxieties seems to bring me to a place where i can let go of them into God’s care–kind of like telling your dad about something that was really bugging you as a kid, and then somehow knowing it would be all right. Dad knew.

Sometimes just to get to this point is blessed relief. But sometimes we might experience something more. That is when silence and aloneness leads to stillness. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes, I believe there is a point in aloneness where no words are needed, where our clamoring thoughts for just a moment are stilled, and we are just being with the God who is “I am”. We are both in wonder in the presence of the Holy One, and basking in the delight of being the beloved of the Father.

And this perhaps is the point where we might “hear” God. It might be a scripture that comes to mind. Perhaps a person comes to mind to call, or pray for, or visit. Sometimes there is nothing but being alone in the Presence, and attentive to whatever may come in the hours ahead. Rich observed that when we’ve been attentive to our thoughts and attentive to God, then we are best prepared to be attentive to others and truly enter into community.

Where do I get alone? Rich’s suggestion that if no where else we might find aloneness in the toilet might be the answer for some. For me, it is getting up in the early morning and sitting in a rocker with my first cup of coffee. Sometimes, it is a long meandering walk. And sometimes, it seems to be working out my thoughts in writing–with the “new mail” sounds muted. Wherever and however it is, somehow aloneness and stillness seems to be health for us and for our communities.

A good friend of ours teaches me much about the wonder of being alone, quiet, waiting. She writes a blog called QuietKeepers. I would commend it to give you a taste of the riches of coming to the place of quiet.