Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Spiritual Direction: “Listening to the Voice of God” (Part II of II) 

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IMG_0715 - Version 2I wonder if any of us have considered absurdity as Nouwen framed it in the last post–our own absurdity, that is, our deafness to God and what it does to us?

Today, Nouwen talks of its alternative. This comes from the same source as the previous post, on the following page:

The obedient life forms the other end of the spiritual spectrum. The word obedience includes the word audire which means “listening.” Living a spiritually mature life is living a life in which we listen to the voice of God’s Spirit within and among us and in which we try to respond to that voice at every moment of our lives. The great news of God’s revelation is not simply that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives at all times and at all places. Our God is a God who cares, heals, guides, directs, challenges, confronts, corrects. God is a God who wants to lead us closer to the full realization of our humanity. To be obedient means to be constantly attentive to this active presence of God and to allow God, who is only love, to be the source as well as the goal of all we think, say, and do. It is, however, far from easy to live a life of listening. There are strong resistances in us to listening. 

What an understatement that last line is!

I can’t read today’s passage, today, and not think of Good Friday and of Jesus shouting to God from the cross of his forsakenness. I wonder if one of the great resistances I face to not listening to God is, simply, the petulant belief that He doesn’t listen to me–at least, not the way I want Him to.

The truth is that this “great news” that Nouwen points out undoes deafness when its taken seriously. To live a listening life, an obedient life, is to believe that we’re heard, too, that our obedience is warranted, reasonable.

I believe that…sometimes. Today I do. I pray tomorrow as well.

How about you?

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter “Spiritual Direction: “Movement From Absurdity to Obedience” (Part I of II) 

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A number of themed compilations of Henri Nouwen’s work have been published. One of these, In My Own Words, was compiled by Nouwen’s long-time friend, Robert Durback. (Durback wrote a forward to one edition of Beyond The Mirror, a book we looked at just a couple of weeks ago.) In the section of the book we’re quoting, below, Durback relies heavily on Nouwen’s work Spiritual Direction. Both these books are available from Amazon, and very likely on the shelves of your local used bookstore, too.

IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s devotional is the first part of a two part series. While Nouwen talks of “an absurd life” today, on Friday–Good Friday–we’ll read about its alternative, an “obedient life.” Good Friday reminds us of many things; Jesus’ own obedience to his calling and mission in the world is just one of these. Ironically, of course, Jesus’ death as a necessary and obedient thing has always struck people as itself “absurd.” But more about that in a few days…

Here, for now:

The spiritual life is a life in which we struggle to move from absurd living to obedient living. The word absurd includes the word surdus which means “deaf.” Absurd living is a way of life in which we remain deaf to the voice which speaks to us in our silence. The many activities in which we are involved, the many concerns which keep us preoccupied and the many sounds which surround us, make it very hard for us to hear the small voice through which God makes God’s presence known (see 1 Kgs 19;12). It seems that the world in which we live conspires against our hearing that voice and tries to make us absolutely deaf. It is therefore is not surprising that we often wonder, in the midst of our very occupied and preoccupied lives, if anything is truly happening. Our lives might be filled with many events–so many events even that we often wonder how we can get it all done–but at the same time we might feel very unfulfilled, and wonder if anything is happening which is worth living for. Being filled yet unfulfilled, being busy yet bored, being involved yet lonely, these are symptoms of the absurd life, the life in which we are no longer hearing the voice of the One who created us and who keeps calling us to a new life in God. This absurd life is extremely painful, because it makes us feel as if we are living in exile, cut off from the vital source of our existence. (In My Own Words, p.89)

There’s little I could add to Nouwen’s “own words,” here. What is your response to this? I find myself led to prayer, asking, as I mull this over, “Lord…how deaf am I to you? And why?” And do I want to know the answers to these questions…?

WALKING WITH HENRI NOUWEN TO EASTER: “Beyond The Mirror: Reflections On Death And Life”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2More than one story has begun with “There was an accident.” Nouwen, like many of us, has his own that begins this way. Anxious one day about being late to an obligation he had made, he disregarded sensible advice and decided to walk, on an icy stretch of road, to the place he needed to be. As he struggled down the slipper, dangerous berm, growing increasingly angry, bitter, and agitated, he was hit in the back by a large mirror of a passing van. He nearly died from internal bleeding. The experiences, reflections, and relationships that surrounded this event make up the heart of Beyond The Mirror. 

The book is deeply personal, as every “there was an accident” story is, and today’s passage may not resonate with all of us. At least, not now; maybe someday? (The passage is slightly longer than some others, but I think it’s worth the extra three minutes.)

…What I learned about dying is that I am called to die for others. The very simple truth is that the way in which I die affects many people. If I die with much anger and bitterness, I will leave my family and friends behind in confusion, guilt, shame, or weakness. When I felt my death approaching, I suddenly realized how much I could influence the hearts of those whom I would leave behind. If I could truly say that I was grateful for what I had lived, eager to forgive and be forgiven, full of hope that those who loved me would continue their lives in joy and peace, and confident that Jesus who calls me would guide all who somehow had belonged to my life–if I could do that–I would, in the hour of my death, reveal more true spiritual freedom than I had been able to reveal during all the years of my life. I realized on a very deep level that dying is the most important act of living. It involves a choice to bind others with guilt or to set them free with gratitude. This choice is a choice between a death that gives life and a death that kills. I know that many people live with the deep feeling that they have not done for those who have died what they wanted to do, and have no idea how to be healed from that lingering feeling of guilt. The dying have the unique opportunity to set free those whom they leave behind. During my “dying hours,” my strongest feelings center don my responsibility toward those who would mourn my death. Would they mourn in joy or with guilt, with gratitude or with remorse? Would they feel abandoned or set free? Some people had hurt me deeply, and some had been deeply hurt by me. My inner life had been shaped by theirs. I experienced a real temptation to hold on to them in anger or guilt. But I also knew that i could shoot to let them go and surrender myself completely to the new life in Christ. (Beyond The Mirror, 51-53). 

Maybe the only thing more common than “there was an accident” is “they died.” Or, as we so often say, “they passed away.” For any of us who are privileged enough to have space to act between now and our deaths, Nouwen’s words can have great implications. “The dying have the unique opportunity to set free those whom they leave behind,” Nouwen says. As one who isn’t facing my “dying hours,” I wonder: While living, right now, who do I need to set free?

Thoughts on Nouwen’s passage? Email me, comment below, or let’s talk.

peace,

rich

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: The Way of The Heart

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Friends! A more personal note today; I hope that’s alright.

Nouwen’s The Way of The Heart has been one of the books with the most spiritual impact on my life. been one of my favorite of his book’s for a long time. When I first read it a decade or so ago,

IMG_0715 - Version 2Out of all the spiritual formation books I’ve read, written by Nouwen or anyone, The Way of The Heart has had some of the most impact in my life. I’m grateful for it, and find it challenging and clarifying in all sorts of ways. What I’ve appreciated so much about it is that reading this book at different points in my life, in the different situations I find myself in, has meant different insights each time.

The most recent time I opened it I was struck by a number of things, but as I read the passage below I felt as if it was written about me. Nouwen is writing on “solitude” here, what he calls “the furnace of transformation”–that is, the place where we fight against “the three compulsions of the world”: to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful (25). It’s a great concept, a great chapter. But Nouwen says this soon after, as a corrective:

In order to understand the meaning of solitude, we must first unmask the ways in which the idea of solitude has been distorted by our world. We say to each other that we need some solitude in our lives. What we really are thinking of, however, is a time and a place for ourselves in which we are not bothered by other people, can think our own thoughts, express our own complaints and do our own thing, whatever it may be. For us, solitude most often means privacy. We have come to the dubious conviction that we all have a right to privacy. Solitude thus becomes like a spiritual property for which we can compete on the free market of spiritual goods…[or] a station where we can recharge our batteries…[or] the corner of the boxing ring where our wounds are oiled” (The Way of The Heart, pp.26-27). 

What is solitude, if it’s not this:

“It is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs” (27).

So, so often, and to my embarrassment, I don’t want solitude–the opportunity to have my world-shaped compulsions reshaped by God’s Spirit, by the simple fact of staying put, with God, when what I’d rather do is check my phone, check the web, check out from the moment. What I really want is privacy; the ability to do whatever I want by myself. Frankly, this has only grown since having a little one, but it’s always been something I’ve sought out.

I think, frankly, privacy is solitude’s cheap, sugar-instead-of-nutrition craving that I have. I should eat dinner; what I want is a Coke and some Reese’s Cups.

I think most of us are more honest than Nouwen gives us credit for. We say “I just want some time alone,” and that’s what we mean: time by ourselves, without anyone nagging us, and definitely not time in which we challenge our “false selves.” But I could be wrong.

What is your relationship with solitude? Privacy? Alone time or whatever way you talk about this? Do you think what Nouwen says about what we really want rings true? What’s your relationship with these things?

Comment if you want…

(Today’s book, which I completely recommend, is available from the Henri Nouwen Society’s Amazon Book Store: http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0345463358

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: The Only Necessary Thing: Living A Prayerful Life

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s selection comes from a passage in Nouwen’s book, “With Burning Hearts.” It’s a book about the Eucharist, and Nouwen lets the story from Luke 24 of the travelers on the road to Emmaus guide his reflection on the way the bread & the cup connect to our daily lives. (This passage is actually taken from a book called The Only Necessary Thing, a collection of assorted quotes and passage from Nouwen that are divvied up into topical chapters.) While Brethren have always emphasized the way Communion draws us together as well as draws us to God, Nouwen’s focus here is on that “vertical” relationship. If you read carefully you’ll notice his allusions to the Luke 24 story as well.

Without further ado:

It is this intense desire of God to enter into the most intimate relationship with us that forms the core of the eucharistic celebration and the eucharistic life. God not only wants to enter human history by becoming a person who lives in a specific epoch and a specific country, but God wants to become our daily food and drink at any time and any place…

Communion is what God wants and what we want. It is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart, because we are made with a heart that can be satisfied only by the One who made. God created in our heart a yearning for communion that no one but God can, and wants, to fulfill. God knows this. We seldom de. We keep looking somewhere else for that experience of belonging….Still if we have mourned our losses, listen to him on the road, and invited him into our innermost being, we will know that the communion we have been waiting to receive is the same communion God has been waiting to give. (Excerpt from The Only Necessary Thing, 180-181; available at Amazon.com, ISBN 10 is 0824524934; 13, 978-0824524937).  

Can you relate to Nouwen here? Have you experienced that sense of belonging that he describes, or even the desire for it that he says our hearts long for?

I think about what it means to belong for all sorts of reasons; it’s easy for me to feel like an outsider, to notice outsiders, and to endlessly reflect on just how much I believe God’s love for me is relevant for whatever happens to be going on around me. (Notice the language: It’s not hard to feel like a stranger to my own life sometimes!) And I have spent enormous amounts of energy trying to find that place where I belong. And yet, discovering my heart’s satisfaction in the communion with God that Nouwen speaks about here has fundamentally changed how I relate to the entire world around me. It’s a daily task, a discipline, for me to return to that communion. The Eucharist–Communion!–is a reminder of it, of course, but it’s been good work to find the ways to return to the truth that Nouwen so honestly describes here.

Any thoughts?

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter – Prayer

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In an interview given to the Journal Sacred Journey, Henri Nouwen was invited to answer a question about prayer. This is his answer:

What is prayer? That is what you have to start with. I very much believe that the core moment of Jesus’ public life was the baptism in the Jordan, when Jesus heard the affirmation, “You are my beloved on whom my favor rests.” That is the core experience of Jesus. He is reminded in a deep, deep way of who he is. The temptations in the desert are temptations to move him away from that spiritual identity. He was tempted to believe he was someone else–You are the one who can turn stone into bread. You are the one who can jump form the temple. You are the one who can make others bow to your power. Jesus said, “No, no, no. I am the beloved from God.” I think his whole life is continually claiming that identity in the midst of everything. There are times in which he is despised or rejected, but he keeps saying, Others will leave me alone, but my Father will not leave me alone. I am the beloved son of God. I am the hope found in that identity.

Prayer, then, is listening to that voice–to the one who calls you beloved. It is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. Although, there is nothing wrong with success, there isn thing wrong with popularity, there is nothing wrong with being powerful. But finally, my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world–the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do–we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity. 

In many ways, what Nouwen expresses here has become the heart of Spiritual Formation for me. I think of Paul who says, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” We who are Christ’s must have our sense of self, of worth, of being worth something come from the fact that God loves us. God simply loves us, and so we’ve got nothing to prove and nothing to lose and everything to gain from offering ourselves to God and the world and those around us in compassion, helpfulness, handiness, service, care.

Who are you? How do you define yourself? Is it the work you do? The relationships you have? What makes you, you, and what would happen if you lost it? 

Does what Nouwen says here matter? 

These aren’t easy questions to take seriously; feel free to post any thoughts you have in the comments below, or reach out to one of Smoky Row’s pastors to talk more about this.

(The ISSN of this journal interview is 1096-5939; published by Fellowship In Prayer, Inc. www.sacredjourney.org.)

A God, A Rulebook, or Trustworthy Testimony

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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?

A Public Faith(fulness)

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As Bob Trube noted in his blog entry yesterday, last Sunday he preached about the parable in Luke 18:1-8 that Jesus tells in order to encourage his disciples to be persistent in prayer—especially prayer for justice. Bob commented on recent events in which African American men were killed by white police officers and suggested that we not give up praying and acting for racial justice and reconciliation.

Brenda Account PictureI have long wondered why it is that African American Christians and white American Christians see things so differently. We’re all followers of the same Jesus, but our theologies have different emphases and we tend to belong to different political parties. (I’m making broad generalizations, of course, but there are observable tendencies here, at least among evangelicals.) I’ve learned a lot by listening to my African American students. I’ve also had my eyes opened by a book called Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (Oxford, 2000).

Emerson and Smith argue that white American evangelicals have an “accountable freewill individualist perspective” on how the world works: things happen because individuals make free choices, for which they are held accountable by God. This perspective shapes the toolbox with which we engage the world: individualism, relationalism and anti-structuralism. I don’t know about you, but in my experience this is pretty much on-target. Evangelicals (my own context) believe that God deals directly with individuals, because God wants to form a personal relationship with each individual. Conversion is an event between the individual and God; church is a helpful but non-essential add-on. This view may be one reason why the number of people who identify as Christians but have no church connection is growing.

This “personal” (individual) perspective means that white Christians tend to be blind to structural sins like racism. Emerson and Smith define racism as “the collective misuse of power that results in diminished life opportunities for some racial groups.” If the topic of racism comes up, we inventory ourselves and decide that we aren’t racist. We harbor no ill will toward persons of another race; some of them may even be our friends. Our responsibility ends there. If other individuals are racist, they should repent of that, and everything will be fine.

This approach ignores the fact that sinful social structures take on a life of their own. America’s history of slavery is a case in point. People on both sides of that debate were Christians, and they argued from the Bible to prove their case. Most Christian slaveholders made no connection between their faith and freeing their slaves, because slavery was a socially accepted institution. The only reason the institution was eventually abolished was because society changed—in this case, through civil war.

Similarly, many people involved in the 1994 tribal genocide in Rwanda were Christians. Some of them were even pastors. One at least one occasion, a pastor offered sanctuary to members of the other tribe and then locked the refugees in the church and burned it down. These Christian murderers had accepted the validity of their faith for their personal lives but didn’t let it transform the tribal hatreds in their society.

When we hear about events like the shooting of an African American man by a white police officer, do we think of it only as an event between two individuals? Or do we reflect on the social context of the event, asking why there are still racial tensions in that community—or in ours? Do we jump in to defend one side or the other, or do we ask ourselves how we might contribute to reconciliation instead of division?

Prayer for justice is certainly one of our responsibilities in situations like that. But as Bob suggested, we should also consider what role the church should have—and what actions the church should take—in addressing the social realities that give rise to such situations. We should never accept the suggestion that our faith is valid only for our personal lives. Jesus is Lord of all, and he plans to extend his rule into all areas of life (1 Corinthians 15:22-28). He wants to renew the world and fix everything that’s broken (Romans 8:18-21; Revelation 21:1-5). What might he want us to do in his name? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Christians listening to one another would be a good start.

Forgiveness for Ourselves

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I was listening to the live stream of This American Life this morning and happened to run across an old show from its first year “Anger and Forgiveness” which I think has relevance both to our current societal moment, and the passage from Matthew 18:23-34.

Ben TrubeI’d been thinking this week about the boundaries we place on forgiveness. All of us I think have some crime or some action that is our dividing line for forgiveness. We may be able to forgive someone who does drugs or robs a liquor store, but we can’t forgive someone who abuses children or commits murder. This line is in different spot for each of us, based on our own personal experiences, views and biases.

In the first act of the This American Life episode they detail a crime where a young woman drowns her two children in her car so she can stay with a rich man who doesn’t want children. She blames their disappearance on some “black man” taking them away, and uses as a defense a history of abuse by her step-father to explain her actions when discovered. This crime had outraged her community, and in fact the whole country (and at a time without social media). They wanted justice and punishment, and they wanted to stay angry.

And that anger might seem righteous. This was a terrible crime, and no matter the life that came before, it doesn’t negate the need for punishment. But Jack Hitt, frequent early contributer to TAL, wrote a piece at the time outlining the need for forgiveness, to gain some understanding of the person who committed the act, and to let go of anger. The piece itself sparked a good deal of anger, and later in the broadcast one of Hitt’s detractors argued the point that there are times where it is appropriate to stay angry, and that liberals are too quick to blame mitigating circumstances. Hitt in turn cites Christianity and the idea of forgiveness, though in a more secular way.

Our modern idea of forgiveness is less about forgiving what the person did, and more about letting go for own sake. Anger can be a destructive force in our lives and it can be unproductive to hold onto that anger. But in society we do not even question the need for punishment for a crime. We can forgive, but we do not absolve.

But Jesus’ parable goes further. Even though we have racked up a debt of sin we could never repay, God is willing to forgive us, but only if we forgive those who have wronged us. And in this case it doesn’t necessarily mean punish but feel less anger toward the person. It means allowing the person who wronged us to atone and to be redeemed.

Now I’m not saying we should rewrite our entire criminal justice system, but I do think we need to evaluate how much we lean on punitive measures as a means for justice and for restoration. A great deal of outrage this week has surrounded the lack of punishment or charges being brought against a man who depending on how you look at it either defended himself, or shot an unarmed 18 year old black man. This is a situation where holding onto anger can be nothing but destructive. Regardless of the final legal consequences, this is a situation that calls for true forgiveness.

Because if we allow ourselves to draw a line beyond which we cannot be forgiven, then none of us will be saved.

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By the way, I found a handy resource for all of Jesus’ parables online here.

Uh… *Tugs Collar*

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I’ve been finding it difficult to know exactly what to say about some of the parables in Rich’s latest series. Today’s is another challenging one, Matthew 22:1-14.

Ben TrubeThere are the obvious parallels to the wedding banquet being the kingdom of heaven, with the lord of the house being God. Beyond that, however, God acts in a retributive way we frankly don’t like to think about very much as Christians. We can maybe understand the response when his guests ignore his invitation and kill his servants, but what about those he invites off the street? Someone isn’t dressed properly and he’s thrown back outside with the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth.

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

We don’t like this as Christians, as people generally. I think most of us want those around us to be with us in Heaven. We don’t want to exclude.

And it may well be that this parable had more bearing on the immediate context of the pharisees than it does on today’s modern context. But a couple of parallels we could draw are evangelists, particularly missionaries spreading God’s word in dangerous corners of the world. Some people die trying to bring God’s word to the world, to invite people to the banquet. But God killing the murderers in return feels a little more Old Testament than we’re comfortable with.

The thing is this, and this is what I come back to. Heaven is not heaven to those who don’t believe in God. If you don’t believe in God, or did believe in God but actively defied him, heaven wouldn’t be your ideal place. These “chosen few” are those who do believe and wish to follow God. Few is not given a specific numerical value here, and I certainly don’t think there’s a quota. Heaven’s got room for everybody.

So how the heck do I apply this to life?

I don’t particularly love living out of the fear motive, which would be implied by the man not wearing the wedding clothes. If going to the wedding banquet is going to your eternal reward, you should be prepared for it at all times, whether it’s happening tomorrow or 20 years from now. Living for God is “wearing your wedding outfit” so to speak. And unlike the parable, this isn’t a wedding you don’t know about and were just pulled off the street. You just don’t know the date.

I like the idea of living for God as a way of building a closer relationship with him, and fulfilling the purpose he has for me, and my whole reason for being. Doing so because I’m afraid I’m going to be caught unawares isn’t really the best way to go about it.

Again I go back to context, which actually prompted me in last week’s Bible Study to say the phrase “What Jesus meant to say here was…”

I know, right?

Parables do not occur in a vacuum, and it is useful and beneficial for teaching to read the whole passage, and not just the little well-known snippets. And sometimes it’s okay to wrestle with something, come up empty, and try again later, praying for insight along the way.

I have a feeling the rest of this series is going to be like that for me?

Have you studied this passage before? What challenges you about it?