Standard

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!

A God, A Rulebook, or Trustworthy Testimony

Standard
Bible open to John 5 (c)Robert C Trube

Bible open to John 5 (c)Robert C Trube

What am I talking about? The Bible, the Christian scriptures.

Some people treat the Bible as if it was the fourth member of the Godhead. Sometimes, it seems we are more zealous to defend a notion of what the Bible is than we are for God’s glory, God’s reputation in the world.

I think many view the Bible as a book of rules. Do these things and you will go to heaven. Don’t do these things and God will get you. Let the people into our community who keep the rules. Exclude the ones who don’t. Study hard so you know the rules. If you are creative, figure out ways to extend the rules to every situation, even ones never envisioned by the rules. Exclude those who don’t agree with your creative interpretations. Congratulate yourself on your diligence in study and rule-keeping. You are one of God’s star pupils.

Of course, that is only good if you are good at study and rule-keeping and many of us are honest enough to admit that we are not. So, should we just pack it in since we are in a mess with God anyway? I think that is how a number of people feel.

This Sunday, our church looked at John 5:19-46 together. Verses 39 and 40 suggest a very different reason for the scriptures:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,  yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Jesus is proposing that the Bible is neither God nor a rule book but rather testimony about himself that can be trusted. The central idea of the Bible is to help people find life through trusting and following Jesus. The Pharisees, who were great at battling for the Bible and devising ingenious rule-keeping strategies were missing the point. In fact they were so caught up in these things that they were refusing something better, real life, being connected to the God who made them through his Son who had come to them.

But, you say, there really are a lot of rules in the Bible. It sure looks like a rule book in places. What’s that all about? There are two ways to answer this. One is that the rules really reflect what God is like and what we need to be like to live with Him. They tell us we need God to do something both to wipe the slate clean from all the ways we break the rules, and to deal with our propensity to do the opposite of what God wants for us. That something is Jesus and the life he gives means both forgiveness for what we’ve done and the power to increasingly live differently.

The second answer is that the instructions and commands we find, especially those given by Jesus and in the New Testament are not rules but tell us how we might most faithfully and joyfully enter into the life Jesus has for us. They teach us how to love God and each other and to experience wholeness in our own selves.

Bob Trube2There’s a good deal more that can be said about all this so if you have questions, leave them in the comments and let’s talk!

The real deal that I want to come back to is that the most important thing to look for when reading the Bible is how it points us toward Jesus. Earlier in the passage we see this is the Jesus who claims equality with the Father and to have been entrusted with the Father’s authority both to give life and to judge (verses 19-27). If that’s true, then there is no one more important to know!

So, if you are spiritually seeking, then it seems one of the most important questions you can ask as you read the Bible is, how does this testify to Jesus and what is this telling me about him? In some sense, all of the Bible does this, but I would suggest for newbie Bible readers that the gospels do this most clearly.

And for those who are Christ-followers, how are we viewing the Bible? Have we gotten caught up in some form of Bible wars? Are we congratulating ourselves on how well we keep the rules, or how much we know about the Bible? Or are we not paying much attention at all to what it says, depending on sermons to do that for us? What John says is that this book tells us who Jesus is and how we can find abundant life as we get to know and follow him better and better.

Going Deeper Question: How do you think about the Bible, and how are you interacting with it?

Thank God It’s Over!

Standard

This Sunday marked the very last sermon in Rich’s 1 Corinthians series. You who have been following the blog have endured it for the last three months, we the last six or more. We have a brief respite for a week or so as guest speakers take over, but then it’s back to another series that doesn’t end until September.

Ugh. Why can’t Rich be like other pastors and only spend a week or two lightly skimming a passage? What is all this going deeper nonsense anyway?

Ben TrubeI should hope that the date if nothing else should be an indication that my tongue is very much in my cheek as I write this. In truth I’ve enjoyed journeying through 1 Corinthians together with you and with our congregation, even on the weeks when we had to cover some of the most well known passages of scripture. Hopefully this blog has been helpful to you, hypothetical readers, in wherever God has been meeting you.

For some of us, as Rich observed, this will be the last time we look at Corinthians for quite some time. Maybe one particular thought will stay with us, or possibly nothing at all. It’s easy to have a very light engagement with the Bible, maybe think about something for an hour or even a few days after we hear it, but not to engage with it afterward.

Truth is, many of us, myself included, haven’t even read large swaths of the Bible once. We’ve covered all of the “important” books, the gospels, some of the Psalms, Romans. We’ve tried to read from cover to cover and fell down somewhere in Lamentations (an aptly named book if ever there was one).

It’s important for what we’ve read to work on us, and us to work on it. The Bible is the easiest thing in the world to carry around with us. There’s apps, multiple free translations, and even cheap paid ebooks. And if you’re like me you’ve probably got enough physical copies to keep one at your office, one at home, and one in your car and still have a few leftover.

It’s good that the Bible is ubiquitous and available, as long as we read it, as long as we learn from what we’ve read, and as long as we come back to it from time to time as life changes. Rich will be soon be moving into a more topical study on the Christian life, and this can be just as engaging. But these deep cuts, these semester or more long studies of a single book have value as well. Read the Bible in spurts, savor it in long quiet times. However you read it, read it!

Well… that was awkward

Standard

Sometimes the Bible can make Christians seem like real jerks:

34 Women[a] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.[b]

Ben TrubeThis week we’re reflecting on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. In the midst of Paul’s continuing argument about spirit-given gifts, which are best, how they should be used for the benefit of others, etc. we have this little gem.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been in a conversation with a non-Christian or even a seeker who finds something really wack-a-doo in the Bible and either tries to argue that this is the way Christians really are, or this is a sign the Bible is imperfect and inconsistent.

As with many things, context is everything.

It’s hard to know the exact situation going on at Corinth at the time, but this was a group of Christians who were still coming out of an orthodox Jewish tradition. Meaning order, and ceremony, and discipline. It’s possible, and indeed likely, that there were many disruptive forces to that order, be they the somehow prized speaking in tongues of some members (mentioned earlier in the passage), or the chattering gossip of women.

Okay, not a whole lot better to say the women were gossiping. This group could just as easily have been disruptive children, teenagers, anyone being disorderly. Paul is just speaking specifically to this congregation in this situation.

Which means … this one doesn’t really apply to us. As Rich noted in his sermon, if anything our church is the exact opposite, tending toward being very quiet and orderly, the casual nature of these posts notwithstanding.

This doesn’t mean we just dismiss something in the Bible just because it makes uncomfortable. After all, the Bible does challenge us to change our actions, our thoughts and our wills. That’s usually uncomfortable. And it’s not a good habit to start dismissing parts of the Bible. Once we open that door, it’s kind of hard to close it.

But getting back to our conversations with non-Christians for a second. It’s difficult to know what to do in these situations, and again context is key.

Who is the person asking you the question and are they willing to hear the answer, or are they just trying to trip you up? The best people who ask these kinds of questions are the kind who will allow you to say, “Huh … that’s kinda weird. Can I get back to you?” Now the key there is that you actually have to get back to them, but it’s still okay to admit we might need a little time to think, pray, and study.

If the person is trying to trip you up, then you’re not really having a conversation, you’re having an argument, one with winners and losers. If you engage, you will probably be one or the other, but neither outcome wins you anything. Better to find something else to talk about.

What passages of the Bible trip you up? What do you do?