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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: “Here And Now: Living In The Spirit”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Crocuses and snowdrops are blooming; the tulips and daffodils and hyacinths are on their way, and it’s been time to start seedlings for awhile now. I haven’t yet; it hasn’t made it on my to do list, and so, I only remember as I fall asleep in bed, and think “Whoops…tomorrow.” I’m a few tomorrows in.

So I’ve been thinking about the trays in the shed and what growing matrix to use, and the like. Nouwen talks about this, too, although only in metaphor. Here’s a passage from Here and Now, taken from pages 95 & 96 of that work. He writes about a reality that faces many of us, and our responsibility given the place in which we find ourselves.

We cannot live a spiritual life alone. The life of the Spirit is alike a seed that needs fertile ground to grow. This fertile ground includes not only a good inner disposition, but also a supportive milieu. 

It is very hard to live a life of prayer in a milieu where no one prayers or speaks lovingly about prayer. it is nearly impossible to deepen our communion with God when those with whom we live and work reject or even ridicule the idea that there is a loving God. it is a super-human task to keep setting our hearts on the kingdom when all those whom we know and talk with are setting their hearts on everything but the Kingdom. 

It is not surprising that people who live in a secular milieu–where God’s name is never mentioned, prayer unknown, the Bible never read, and conversation about the life of the Spirit completely absent–cannot sustain their communion with God for very long. I have discovered how sensitive I am to the milieu in which I live. With my community, words about GOd’ presence in our life come spontaneously and with great ease. However, when I join in a business meeting in downtown Toronto or keep company with those who work with AIDS patients, a conversation about God often creates embarrassment or even anger and generally ends up in a debate about the pros and cons  of religion that leaves everybody unhappy. 

When we are serious about living a spiritual life we are responsible for the milieu where it con grow and mature. Although we might not be able to create the ideal context for a life in the Spirit, we have many more options than we claim for ourselves. We can choose friends, books, churches, art, music, places to visit, and people to be with that, taken together, offer a milieu that allows the mustard seed that God has sown in us to grow into a strong tree. 

I appreciate the empowerment in this passage. Nouwen’s so right: we can rarely “create the ideal context for a life in the Spirit,” and yet, we do often too-quickly toss our hands in the air and just give up. How have you made the most of the milieu you find yourself in so that you can grow in a deepening trust in, awareness of, and obedience to God? Where do you get the nourishment your “seed of faith” needs to grow?

Boundaries

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My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. (Galatians 6:1-5)

Rich’s message this week called us to have integrity in our dealings as Christians in any situation we might encounter. He gave us three principles to help us in this: claiming our time, self-differentiation, and establishing disciplines. They’re all related to intentionality and to keeping Christ at the center of our lives. We need to live all of life in light of who we are in Christ and what Christ has called us to do.

Brenda Account PictureI was particularly struck by the call to self-differentiation. It was all about boundaries—setting clear boundaries so we know what is ours and what belongs to someone else—so that we aren’t defined by others, but by Christ, and we aren’t trying to make others into the people we want them to be but allowing them to find their own identity in Christ. We once spent an adult education class reading the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend that made some of the same points. I recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read it.

Along the way, Rich warned us about dumping our anxieties and misery onto other people, wanting to make them as miserable as we are ourselves. Conversely, we should have a strong enough sense of our own identity not to be engulfed and swept away by the problems of others. Neither of these situations is healthy for anyone involved.

I pondered this for a while. What’s the difference between going to someone for help and dumping our problems on them? What’s the difference between empathetic listening and losing your way in someone else’s problems? These lines can be a bit tricky sometimes, especially in close relationships that may have a lot of baggage.

There’s an old saying that misery loves company. We may know people who are exhausting to be around because they drain our emotional resources. They demand our sympathy, but we know from experience that nothing we do or say will make any difference. They are so immersed in their distress that they can’t take an interest in other people’s lives. Maybe we love someone like this. Maybe we are someone like this.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about people who are in crisis or who are struggling with a long-term problem. All of us fit into one of these categories at some time or other. But there’s a difference between being in crisis and wanting everyone else to be in crisis because we are.

So what’s the difference? If we’re the one in crisis, maybe it means honestly asking for help. That can be hard to do, but we all need to do it sooner or later. That’s one of the reasons the church exists. Pretending to one another that everything is fine doesn’t honor the intimacy Jesus wants to create among his people. Venting to a trusted person is okay. But while everybody needs to vent once in a while, doing it all the time doesn’t respect the other person, who no doubt has problems of their own. Once we ask for help, we need to consider it honestly and respectfully when it’s offered—even when it may mean changes or hard work on our part.

We should also be sensitive to the person we’re sharing our burdens with. If they’re tired or burdened themselves, it may not be a good time to call on them. Sometimes, when we do call on them, we may just need to let them share their burdens with us. Where we can, we should foster genuine two-way relationships that bless both parties.

If we’re the one ministering to someone in crisis, we need to set healthy boundaries. We are called to sympathize deeply with one another, to bear one another’s burdens and weep with those who weep. But if we lose our way in depression or despair, we can’t help ourselves or anyone else. We have to remember that in Christ we have a place to stand. Despite all the trials of life, we have hope; we have the Spirit, the Scriptures, and the church. This is what we have to offer one another when life gets too hard. Sometimes we just have to hold on to these things.

In Galatians 6, Paul says that we must bear one another’s burdens, but we must also carry our own load. Burdens are meant to be shared, but we must take responsibility for the “load” of our own lives. Figuring out which is which can be difficult sometimes, but we owe it to one another to try. With God’s grace, mutual forgiveness, and a sense of humor, we can sort it out.

A change is as good as a rest

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I think that expression is British or at least I’ve heard it on British TV. It basically means that doing something else for a while is just as good as taking an actual rest. This sums me up and my interaction with rest in a nutshell.

Ben TrubeHere’s my typical week. Monday or Tuesday (or both) I burn the candle at both ends by waking up early to work on writing and I stay up late to do the same thing. Wednesday and Thursday I may sleep a little later, but I’m still up later hanging out with the wife or puttzing around on the computer (or reading till all hours of the night). Friday has me up til 12am or 1am in the morning a lot of the time, then I make up the sleep on the weekend. Any given night I get between 6-7 hours of sleep a night, but I know I’m not really sharp unless I get eight.

Part of the reason for this schedule is my priorities in life, and my desire to be productive in all of them. There’s work of course, which thankfully is a little more constrained then some of my fellow engineers, but still keeps me away from home about 50 hours (including lunch hours and commutes). There’s writing: four blog posts a week, one short story for Bradbury’s 52, and current novel work, about 10-15 hours all told. Then of course there’s time spent with the wife,and if there’s some leftover energy it’s spend on God, games, and exercise.

I say that reading is restful, and it is one of the ways I wind down after a long day. But I also have reading “homework”, stuff I’m reading related to my various projects. Even a lot of my pleasurable reading, like comic books for NetGalley, has some connection to work since I write a review for a lot of them. Watching TV can take me out of my own head, but it doesn’t particularly put me in a place to receive God, and good TV can keep me up later than I’ve been intending (as can the Internet or a good game). And I usually don’t watch TV, I’m doing something else on my computer writing related, or browsing for things to read or buy. In other words, except maybe for the writing, I’m a pretty typical American.

Rich was hesitant to offer a lot of specific ways to rest other than sleep, and I have to admit, counter-intuitive as it seems, I do find myself getting more done in a week when I keep a more regular schedule. Sometimes I romanticize getting up early or staying up late. It’s kind of cool to be up when a lot of people aren’t. But there are also some good reasons why people aren’t up at those times, or at least not both of them. Sleep is good for me and truthfully I like sleep. I sleep about as late as I possibly can some days, hitting the floor, falling into clothes, and driving to work.

I’m sure I could be in a little danger of going too far the other way into sloth, though truthfully I have too much I want to do to waste too much of my time. I do like using rest, or playful activities as an incentive after getting certain things done. That way I get my sense of accomplishment but I also get a recharge.

Here’s a weird idea for the computer oriented among you. Use your computer on battery until it runs out or shuts down. Then don’t boot it up again until you see the charging light go back to green (or whatever indicates a mostly full charge). In the meantime take a nap, read a book for pleasure, or spend some time in silent reflection. It’s better for your laptop battery, and it’s better for you.

Thank God It’s Over!

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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!