Going Deeper: A Shared Language to Change and Challenge Us

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Psalms

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

This past Sunday, our pastor used this Psalm to help us understand something of how the Psalms may work in our lives. There were a few things he said that particularly have me thinking.

One is how the Psalms, though written in particular contexts only sometimes evident have the power to speak deeply to humanity because they speak to human emotions and about human realities that confront us all. Who of us has not had times where we’ve felt unsafe and wanted to find a place of security?

Because of their ability to address universal human conditions, they can function in a corporate way to give us prayers we may pray together, such as parts of the church do with the lectionary, reading, reflecting on and praying the same Psalms across the globe. I’m beginning to consider whether this may be one of the most important ways to be reminded of my solidarity with believing people around the world. No wonder they have often been called the prayer book of the church.

Rich posed the question to us of how we might be formed if we went back to setting to music, singing, and memorizing the Psalms. I think of the power of memorizing Psalm 23 as a child and how this has stayed with me for a lifetime–when I’ve been weary, or scared, faced evil, or death. I think of how God spoke deeply to me from Psalm 46 in a time of fretfulness and anxiety to “be still and know that I am God.” From Psalm 16 I’m reminded that when I wake in the middle of the night (a phenomenon that happens more often these days), even then God counsels and my heart instructs.

The Psalms also challenge us. They surface raw emotions we sometimes avoid. Even when we feel safe, they remind us of those who do not. They confront us with ultimate realities we would often care not to think of. They bid us to praise God whether we feel like it or not.

Rich concluded with talking about how often we read the Psalms. I often read through the Bible in a year, and so read the Psalms in the course of this. But some read them monthly or even more often. It strikes me that this might be what it takes to have a Psalm-saturated life. And that might not be such a bad thing.

–Bob Trube (also posted at bobonbooks.com)

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The Uncomfortable Fact of Jesus

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This week’s topic is drawn from the Lectionary, the common scripture readings read by churches all over the world. Specifically we’ll cover John 8:31-49 in a sermon preached by none other than my dad.

Ben TrubeDad talked about a common sentiment expressed by people who have left the church (and frankly some of those who are still in it), “I like Jesus, but I don’t like this whole religion thing.” But what do we think about when we think of Jesus. We think of him as being a good teacher, maybe performing some miracles, laying down some wisdom. A good guy, even he non-religious of us in the crowd can generally agree on that point.

But this passage does something else. We’ve all heard the phrase “the truth shall set you free”. Well in this particular passage Jesus is talking about people who believe in him, people who become his disciples. But the people in the room didn’t take to kindly to this. They said they weren’t slaves (because being set free implies some kind of slavery). After a little back and forth involving questioning Jesus’ parentage, throwing around some racial slurs, and threatening to stone him, Jesus slips away, this last bit after he identified himself as “I AM”.

No, he’s not Popeye. He’s God, like in the way that God used to talk about himself to moses. And the guys in the room knew this.

Claiming you’re God leaves only a few possibilities. You are either:

  • An unbelievable heretic (Jewish view of the time)
  • Clinically insane (more of a modern view)
  • God

So Jesus is doing several things here. He’s calling himself God, which kinda implies more than he was just a good teacher. And he’s implying we’re slaves to something.

In the word’s of the church lady:

Or rather that since Abraham is not their father (because if he was the Jews would be acting a lot more welcoming to Jesus) and their father certainly isn’t God, since they’re trying to destroy Jesus, that really only leaves one possibility. We are slaves to sin, and not just the big obvious sexy kinds.

Sin can be anything in our life that becomes more important than discipleship of Jesus. This can be our job, our politics, our spouse, anything, not just the known vices.

Jesus is making us face the fact we’re not perfect, that we screw up a lot and fall short of promise. Even though we know this about ourselves, we don’t like to face it. We’re all pretty good people, what’s the big deal.

The think is we’re not. We lust after people. We get jealous. Someone annoys us in traffic and we picture that our cruise control buttons actually fire cruise missiles out of our headlines, destroying every car in front of us. (Hmm… Been watching too many Bond movies lately).

I ignore the sin in my life by keeping busy. I have a lot of projects going, two blogs, a novel, work and just recently doing OS upgrades at home and at the Church. I’m really good at filling my time. If it’s not with working it’s with playing, watching TV, computer games. When I get to the end of the day and I’m tired I think, well maybe I deserve a little sinning. I’ve had such a productive day, I deserve a treat. That’s totally how it works right? Or I’ve had a really crappy day, maybe some sinning will cheer me up.

I don’t actually say sinning, I say eating too much or playing a video game until both my legs go numb or… that thing 98% of men do.

Now I’m not saying God doesn’t want us to have fun. One of the more interesting parts of The Screwtape Letters is the passage where he devil talks about how he can twist pleasures into sins. The devil can’t create any real pleasures, but he can nudge people into pursuing them into excess or becoming obsessed with them. We become slaves to sin when it’s all we think about, when it’s how we get through the day, when it’s something we can rely on to always make us feel better that isn’t God.

And Jesus is making us think about these things in this passage and we’d rather not. Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking I’m coming off like an adhedonic prude.

But the truth is we can get better, with God’s help, especially when we admit that we can’t fix everything on our own. That can be a hard thing for a man, and engineer, and just about anybody to say, but it’s a necessary part of the Christian life. We can enjoy the pleasures of life without becoming slaves to them. And we can receive Jesus like he’s what we’ve been waiting for since Abraham, and not someone we need to discredit.