Yep, that’s me.

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In our continuing topical series on the Christian life, Pastor Rich spoke about neighbors, specifically the ways in which we can be a good neighbor in ways that might seem a little unusual to society, or to our own preferences.

Ben TrubeRich characterized the typical neighbor relationship as one where one principally avoids the other. Our neighbors are friendly background noise to our lives. Their homes should be kept up to a certain standard so as not to offend our sensibilities. They should demand little or nothing of us, but if there is something we want of them they should respond immediately.

There are a lot of reasons we might react in this way toward our neighbor. We may be introverted and less inclined to social interaction generally. We may feel that we don’t have enough time. Or we may have cultivated a personality that makes certain friends and keeps them to the exclusion of all others.

Guilty.

I feel like a guy with a lot of demands on his time. In addition to spending 45 hours a week at work (5 of which are lunch but I’m still stuck in Delaware), plus another hour plus each day commuting, I already feel pretty drained. Couple that with engaging passions like the writing, and trying to spend time with my wife and I don’t often feel like I have time for anyone else. I enjoy the occasional social interaction, life group and church, monthly poker, and indeed even find these times restorative, but I’m not looking to add a whole bunch more to my life. When it gets to the weekend there’s either honey-do, my own projects, or frankly most weekends just rest and restoration.

And I’m a bit of a curmudgeon at heart. I tend to care only what a specific few people care about me, and the rest’s opinion matters very little. I’ve never been the sort of person who cares what my neighbor thinks of my lawn (breaking social contract perhaps) and in fact think the fact that they’d have an opinion on anything I do to be demonstrably ridiculous (except loud noise at night because that’s just rude, this isn’t a college neighborhood).

If I see making friends with the neighbors as simply fulfilling a need for social interaction, then I’m already quite satisfied with my friends, my church, my co-workers, that I don’t really need anything else.

But what about seeing my neighbors as a kind of mission, another opportunity to spread the word of God to the people around me. I think a lot about the fact that I don’t really have much of a place to spread God’s love, work is predominantly Christian (at least the people I interact with), and aside from a couple of specific friends I will probably be having lifelong conversations with, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to simply be helpful to people.

Except I totally do.

I don’t know about choosing where you live specifically as a mission, something Rich touched on Sunday, but there’s plenty of mission to be had wherever you are. Clintonville’s a pretty nice place to live but everywhere has problems, people in need, or even just relationships that can be better.

For me, at least at first, it would probably be easier to build on something I already do, invite a neighbor to the monthly poker game, maybe time our daily klaw (that’s walk backwards so the dog doesn’t know what it is) so we can walk with our next door neighbors (assuming our dogs can learn to get along).

This is an area in which I feel personally challenged, which has the advantage of having a lot to write about, even if I don’t particularly know how to fix it at the moment. A lot of my life the last couple of years has been softening around people, not being so quick to judge, and to be more willing to give of myself, and to receive help (which Rich correctly assesses is actually harder to do).

How about you? Do you find interacting with neighbors comes naturally, or is it something you really have to work at?

Family Matters

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Pastor Rudy spoke Sunday of the various assaults on the family unit, and how to live the Christian life within the context of family.

Family can be a tricky thing to talk about and I’l admit I haven’t been exactly sure what to write about for this post (and not just because my Dad will be following up tomorrow 🙂 ).

Ben TrubeAs a young married person (well I guess more than five years now), life is about trying to figure out how to establish a new family able to function independently on its own while still respecting the needs and thoughts of both source families.

Let me put this more simply, kids tend to do one of two things: do exactly what their parents did, or do exactly the opposite. This is of course an over-simplification, but it rings true in many cases. And when we encounter another family, especially the family of our spouses, we evaluate the way we’ve been living against theirs.

For instance cooking on vacation was something my family almost never did whereas it was a fact of life for my wife. We’ve been able to compromise and enjoy eating in some meals giving us the chance to enjoy wherever we are going, while still taking time to go out and experience any fun local cuisine. Just recently we implemented this plan on a vacation with my parents and it went very well.

The biggest attack on family is sin, both dysfunctions that can carry down the generations, and the devil’s influence in our lives. The first murder was between brothers, one jealous of the other for seeming more worthy in God’s eyes. There’s pride, resentments, in some cases actual abuse. But even little things can cause us to sin against each other if we don’t communicate with patience and love.

1 Timothy also talks about caring for the people in our family who are unable to care for themselves:

1 Timothy 5:8 – Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The implication here is that even unbelievers take care of their own, and caring for family is a societal value. There’s an implied responsibility to provide for your own.

I’ve seen this modeled in the way my parents took my Grandmother in when she was declining, and in the many ways they’ve cared and supported for their parents. Indeed an important thing to recognize is that the way we care for others shapes the way people may care for us.

I’m not sure I have any conclusions to draw here other than that as Rudy said about the Christian life, living and growing as a family is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s something we continuously try to improve and with love and God’s help, we can.

 

The Good or Faithful Life?

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The current sermon series at Smoky Row Brethren Church is about how to live well as a Christian in lots of different situations. One of the things Rich asked us to think about is what makes a good life. What does it mean to live well? Do you answer this differently depending on whether you’re a Christian or not? I think some of the answers are likely to be the same for everybody: good health, long life, meaningful work, strong relationships. In some ways, though, a Christian’s answers might stand out from the crowd.

For many people today, the good life is spelled success. To live the good life, you need to be young, rich, sexy, and famous. Living well means having it all. The New Testament writers aren’t impressed by these values: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever” (1 John 2:15-17 NRSV). Jesus says not even to worry about basic things like food and clothing: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). This sounds too impractical to be a roadmap to success.

Brenda Account PictureThe Christian “good life,” though, seems to be less about success and more about faithfulness. That’s how Paul sums up his own life as it nears its end: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, faithfulness is what the master (God) rewards: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). Faithfulness isn’t about how much we get, but what we do with what we have.

From what we see in the Bible, the faithful life is a mixed bag. Hebrews 11 talks about some pretty great things: people conquered kingdoms, escaped death, administered justice, saw loved ones raised from the dead. Unfortunately, faithful people also experienced poverty, persecution, imprisonment, and death in many gruesome forms. The faithful life is often less glamorous—and sometimes shorter—than the successful life. On the plus side, anybody can be faithful—anybody, that is, who follows Jesus and relies on the help of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to be young, rich, sexy, or famous!

We could always sum this up by saying that for a Christian, the good life looks like Jesus. But what does that look like, given that Jesus never went to college, raised kids, worked at a corporation, played sports, retired from a job, or did many of the other things we do all the time? We’ll have a chance to flesh this out as we think about “the good life” in more detail in coming weeks. Stay tuned!

OK You just have to [insert techno-babble here]

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Pastor Rich is beginning a series on the Christian life and generally what it means to be a Christian in society. As part of this introduction he talked about advice, specifically giving advice without listening to the whole problem first, or assuming our experience is exactly the same as someone else’s, simple advice.

Ben TrubeAs you might expect for a software engineer, a lot of what I get asked about is computers. Someone has a problem and they need me to solve it. Sometimes as soon as I walk over the problem goes away (I heard this phenomenon termed “probable user hallucination”) and admittedly it’s pretty easy to think that whatever problem they’re having it not only has an easy solution, it has an obvious one.

See, one of the things that comes from working with computers for hundreds of hours is a basic knowledge of how programmers think. Even when I have no idea how to do something, because the guy who designed Windows or Word or any other piece of software is a guy like me I have at least some insight into how they were thinking. If not, Google helps.

What I don’t tend to have a very good grasp on is listening to what people are actually telling me. And I’m not that good of a teacher. I can’t just sit back and tell them what to do. I have to be in the driver’s seat. Professionally this makes sense, since I’m hired to be an expert, but even in that situation it’s important to be able to teach others new skills, and to really understand what they’re trying to do.

No two programmer’s think alike. There’s about as much similarity between my programming and somebody else’s as Hemingway and Jonathan Franzen. And nobody’s life or way they think is exactly the same.

So how does this relate to the Christian life?

Well, one of the things Rich wants to avoid are simple answers, like “be like Jesus”. Sure that’s not a bad idea, but it isn’t very practical. It doesn’t parse life in all of its subtlety. Sure there are some big ticket things we can do, but how do we approach every situation like Jesus.

One way to do something may make sense for one task and not make sense for another.

And the Christian life isn’t about glossing over the details. As I wrote about previously, some parts of the Bible are just … awkward. If we ignore them we may be able to live happy ignorant lives, but not very deep ones, and we won’t have much luck talking to the non-Christians in our lives.

This series is going to cover a lot of ground, which will hopefully be great for some of you who come to this blog but wondered why we were talking about 1 Corinthians the whole time. Hopefully there will be something for everyone trying to live out the Christian life in the world.

If you have anything you’d like to hear about, I’m sure it could be passed along and we’ll deal with it either in the blog or in later sermons. Leave your comments here.

Be Strong

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1 Cor 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

Pastor Rich, in discussing the end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, talked about Paul’s affirmation to be strong. In this case we’re not talking about physical strength, or personal strength, but strength that comes from the Lord.

He challenged us to think about the ways in which we need to rely on the Lord’s strength, and the ways in which we instead rely on our own.

Ben TrubeIn most situations I do not feel the immediate need for the lord’s support. I am capable and disciplined in my job, and in my life passions. The most distinct times I have felt the need for God were during times of personal illness, or illness or tragedy within the family. There have been a few other crisis related situations, but it does not feel like something that is part of my every day experience.

If I was really a Northeastern protestant, I could say that I was doing this because I don’t want to be a bother to God. All of my little problems are something that he doesn’t need to worry himself with. But if I’m being more honest, it comes much more out of arrogance or at least confidence in my own abilities. Both programming and writing require a certain amount of personal ego to function well in the job (it takes a certain amount of ego to assume other’s should read you, and programmers by their very nature speak confidently about their field).

I guess one area in my daily life I need God’s strength, support and insight is writing about God. I’m much more confident in my ability to analyze the day’s publishing events, or to break down how to create a certain type or fractal, or even to craft a mystery or story, than I am to speak about what God has to say. Writers speak with a certain voice, and I still feel that when I write about faith I haven’t quite found the voice that God wants me to speak with.

There are others. In truth I wonder how much more disciplined, how much more could be accomplished if I relied less on my own moods and inspirations, and more on God’s inspiration. I’m pretty happy I’ve been able to revise 72% of an 80K word draft in about five months, but that was with long swaths of time off in between, and varying degrees of confidence.

And life is not all about writing. I need God’s strength in other areas of my life that need discipline. In my health, my reach of the gospel to others, in my relationships.

Okay, so I know I need God’s strength. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to give up being stubborn, self-centered, and self-reliant, an easy thing for an only child writer to do.

Yeah. Well, we’ll see.

Master of Analogy and Metaphor

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This week we heard from Pastor Rudy on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Here Paul talks more about our imperishable body, and works to discount the notion of a disembodied spirit present in a lot of Greco-Roman philosophy. He compares our body to seeds that we plant, and our resurrected body to the flower that springs forth, so completely different in nature and character than that from which it sprung. He then goes on to describe all sorts of heavenly bodies and their splendor, and how each is different and also wonderful.

Ben TrubeOur resurrected body, an imperishable body that lives without sin in a world without sin, hardship or disease, all working toward God’s glory. This can be a little hard to understand when we’re still living inside the seed of that world.

One of the questions I wrestle with regard to eternal life and our life in heaven and the new earth is whether I’ll still be a writer. It’s common wisdom that at the core of good writing is conflict. A problem is there to be solved, and over the course of the narrative equilibrium is reestablished. Sometimes these problems are solved with violence or other morally ambiguous means, but at the very least the problems are typically morally wrong. Most good mysteries start with a murder or another sort of crime.

So, in a world without sin and without crime, what do I write about? Historical novels? Or would the narrative even serve the same function for our resurrected selves as it does for us now? Writing can be seen as a morality play, taking a question or aspect of society and examining it through a story. Is this something we’ll still need to do in the redeemed world?

Here’s why it’s hard for me. I feel like writing is a gift that God gave me, both to give me personal satisfaction, but also as a means to communicate with others. I am passionate about writing. It is as near to my thinking as God, if I’m honest sometimes it’s louder. And I don’t particularly like the idea of an eternity spent not doing the thing I love doing now. I worry sometimes about not being able to get all the books I have in my head out before I die. Do I take comfort that I will have the chance in a risen body? Writing is not sinful, but so much narrative relies on a world where sin is present.

I don’t have the answer for this other than to say I don’t think God would put me in a state so outside who I am as a person, who he made me to be. Our resurrected life will be as different as the seed is to the flower, the essence is present in our lives now, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Resurrected life will be in some ways practical and recognizable, and in others completely outside our current way of thinking.

That said, I’m a pretty stubborn guy. I’ll probably be writing either way 🙂