Going Deeper: A Shared Language to Change and Challenge Us

PsalmsPsalm 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.

Going Deeper: The Present of Owning Who We Are

Christ after his Resurrection, with the ostentatio vulnerum, showing his wounds, Austria, c. 1500

Christ after his Resurrection, with the ostentatio vulnerum, showing his wounds, Austria, c. 1500

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:1-6 (NIV)

I’ve been thinking all week about Pastor Rich’s first sermon on returning from his sabbatical. Much of this focused around how he learned during his sabbatical to begin to own and live with some of the qualities about himself with which he has always wrestled: his restlessness and discontent.

The realization for him was that these were not going to change in three months, or maybe a lifetime. Rather, we need to grasp that part of the process of become fully human in the ways our Lord would intend is to neither deny or try to change who we are but to own that before God and with ourselves. We join the psalmist in acknowledging that who we are has always been known to God and is part of our fearfulness and wonderfulness.

The “present” in this realization really is the present. Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” To live in the moment, not by ourselves but to own who we are and live with ourselves is a gift. It comes from the God who is graciously present with us — who sees us through and through and yet chooses to be “God with us”. If God can handle who I am and set his love upon me, then I am free to see myself for who I am and own that. I can sit quietly with myself.

I appreciated Rich’s candor about the qualities of self he struggles with and is learning to own. I appreciated his concluding challenge that we are too often absent to ourselves and God.

What I think Rich did is describe each of our life journeys toward wholeness. We might put different words in place of restless and discontent. For me it can be self-righteousness and compulsive diligence. Forty years of walking with Jesus hasn’t eradicated them. But knowing that Jesus knows these things, and chooses to walk with me means I can even laugh about these things, and accept the warnings of my wife when they are getting out of hand in my life.

I also wonder if there is something more. Henri Nouwen, in The Wounded Healer suggests that when we face our own woundedness and own these wounds and how we suffer from them, and offer them to God, they don’t go away, but become the source of bringing healing to others. They become sacred wounds, analogous to the wounds in the hands and feet of Jesus.

Rich, you gave us an example of that this Sunday in sharing your own sabbatical journey, and with that the wounds of restlessness and discontent. Sharing how you’ve come to own these, and live in the presence of God with these extends hope that Christ can meet each of us in this way. That is a profound gift to us all.

Going Deeper: Peace Be With You

“Shalom”, the Hebrew word for “peace”

Our pastor (Rich) made the statement this past Sunday, “that when we show up what we need to do before anything else is bring peace.” He rooted this statement in the observation that three times in Jesus’s resurrection appearances in John 20, he says, “peace be with you.” In two instances it is the first thing Jesus says (John 20: 19, 26).

Rich went on to talk about the fact that Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they had nothing to fear from him. I suspect they weren’t too sure of that. Someone coming back from the dead can be a bit scary. Then there’s the matter of how they acted during his arrest and crucifixion. They were not exactly the poster children for loyalty or courage.

Instead, Jesus said “peace”, or “shalom”, the way Jews greeted each other and expressed their wish for wholeness and health on the life and home of the one they were addressing. It’s what Jesus taught his disciples to say when they came to a town bringing the good news and needed a place to stay. Rich proposed that “we could do worse than simply, everywhere we ever go, say and do whatever lines up with ‘Peace be with you.’ Our reputation in the world would change.”

It is troubling to me that people are fearful of their encounters with church people. But the truth is they are often expecting a judgment, a criticism, or an argument.  It strikes me that it could be a radical thing if instead, what they found in us were people who genuinely wanted them to find peace, wholeness, and health–all the things wrapped up in shalom.

It would be interesting to experiment with that for a week. I can think of some interesting ways to go about that:

  • What about closing our emails with “peace” or “peace be with you” (or “PBWY” on our texts!)?
  • What about writing “peace be with you” on our check at a restaurant along with a generous tip?
  • What about greeting each other at the beginning of our days with these words spoken gently, perhaps bearing a cup of coffee?
  • What about offering to pray for or even with (if they are comfortable) a friend who is stressed that they might experience God’s peace?

You get the idea. I would love to hear other ideas you come up with to say and do “peace be with you”.

Rich also made the point that for us to be that in the world, we need to start by practicing this with each other:

But I think in some ways it has to be our self-talk, too. When we come together, for whatever reason, our first stance, our first words, our basic orientation toward each other needs to be “Peace be with you.” Don’t be afraid, don’t be worried. Be at peace. Be at rest. Be yourself, and let me be myself, and let’s not be anxious about anything, for God is with us.

Churches aren’t always peaceful places. People coming from harried, busy lives may encounter messages that basically say, “you need to do more, give more, pray more” when maybe the first invitation we might give each other is to rest, to enjoy peace, to revel in silence, or the beauty of a song of praise. What a beautiful thing it can be for someone to ask, “where do you need the peace of God in your life right now?” What if board meetings began this way with prayer for one another to know the shalom of Jesus? And might it be the case that when people are at peace, then they can hear the empowering word of Jesus that infuses doing with joy!

On a personal note, I want to extend a “peace be with you” to our pastor as he begins a three month sabbatical. Rich, you labored hard these past seven years bringing peace and a new sense of hope to a troubled church through your week in, week out teaching and presence among us. Often it has meant bearing the burdens of others. May you know the peace of the Lord in rest, in quietness, in the simple richness of shared life with your family, in times of reflection, in all the warp and woof of your lives these next months. May the peace of the Lord be with you!

Going Deeper: One

5iRrkKEoTOne of our deepest human longings is for intimacy. We hope to find it in marriage. Perhaps we have found it with a friend or group of friends. We long for it in various communities of which we are a part, including our church communities. We may even long for this with God but not be sure whether such closeness is actually possible. And when we find that intimacy, we often describe it using the language of one–the two become one, being of one mind and heart, being at one with each other, oneness with God. It is the oneness not of losing one’s sense of self but of knowing and being known.

This past Sunday, our Pastor Rich preached on John 17:1-26. There was one section of this which yielded an insight I’ve wanted to go deeper into this week, found in verses 20-23:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I’ve often focused on John 13:35 that says,  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” What I’ve paid less attention to is that our ability to love for each other, to be one with each other is rooted in a deeper oneness. Jesus prays that we might share in the oneness he has with the Father, and it is by this that we are also at one with our fellow Christians. Rich talked about this incredible thing that we’ve been brought into the life of loving oneness between the Father and Son and that our oneness with each other flows out of this oneness. Intimacy with Jesus is the fuel for intimacy with each other.

The challenge for me is that I try to do the “oneness thing” on my own strength and what these verses say is that my oneness with my community in Christ comes from being in Christ who is in the Father. The best way I can nurture “the beloved community” with God’s people is to know and accept and embrace my belovedness. Because of Jesus, God is for me. Because of Jesus God loves me in spite of all my faults. God loves me just because He does, and invites me to be as close to him as Jesus and the Father have been forever.

Because this is so, I don’t have to change the things I don’t like in others to be one in Christ with them, or conform to the expectations of others. We simply have to love each other just because. I’ve found myself loving people I didn’t like or wouldn’t have chosen to hang around with. I’ve found myself loving people I disagreed with.

Rich talked about the beautiful thing that happens when we are one with God and each others in these ways–“more and more people, as they see our unity, are drawn into the divine community that we ourselves are a part of. ”

One of the things I love about our church is that it is this crazy place where people who otherwise would not be in each other’s lives are learning to love each other and anyone else who walks in the door in practical and life-giving ways. We don’t do it perfectly, at least I don’t. But we don’t give up. That is the power of One!

Going Deeper: Listen to Your Lawyer!

On several occasions, I’ve learned that lawyers can be quite helpful and save one a great deal of grief. We had the benefit of a lawyer walking us through the complexities of probate. In my work, I’ve learned that a lawyer can save a great deal of grief for me and our organization by reviewing a contract. Sadly, I’ve sometimes recommended lawyers to friends who needed someone to represent their interests in a divorce, or to help them navigate their way through our country’s labyrinthine immigration laws.

Our message this past Sunday focused on John 15:26-16:11 and this sometimes mysterious person of the Trinity we call “the Holy Spirit”, or in older times “the Holy Ghost.” Sometimes the language suggests this vague, ethereal being. At other times, we are tempted to view the Holy Spirit as a kind of “spiritual battery pack” who charges us up to serve God.

Instead, Pastor Rich pointed out the word picture of the Holy Spirit as our Advocate. Sometimes paraclete, the word translated in the NIV as “advocate” is translated as “counselor”. Rich pointed out that we can use that language if we think, not of a therapist, but of a legal counselor. In French, the word for lawyer is avocat. The idea is one who stands alongside us when we are on trial, who empowers us by his presence with us rather than some vague spiritual charge. He is also one who advocates on our behalf and does not leave us defenseless.

I can think of all kinds of ways I face “trials” in which I need this kind of counsel, this kind of advocacy:

  • When I face difficult choices and wonder which is the right path to choose
  • When I face a challenging ethical situation and want to do the right thing
  • When I am sharing with a friend and we are talking about faith and my friend raises a difficult objection.
  • When I am overwhelmed by trying circumstances–when everything seems to be going wrong and I alternate between frenzied activity and fearful paralysis.

What Jesus promises is that in this hour of trial, whatever it is, we do not stand alone. There is One who stands alongside us, instructing us as “the Spirit of truth” (15:26). He testifies about Jesus so that we can testify about Jesus and tell and live the truth of who he is.

My greatest challenge is listening to my lawyer! Sometimes, I think the reason I do not listen is because I’m afraid if I do, I won’t hear anything and won’t be helped. So I decide to just do it myself. Yet I can also think of a time when I was facing a great challenge, that had me crying out for the Spirit’s help. And I found that when the need was there, so was the insight of what to do next, step by step. It did not seem that the Holy Spirit showed me the whole game plan, but rather just the next step. And he gave the presence of mind and peace of heart to give calm leadership to others.

What I forget is that the Holy Spirit is not simply my Advocate in extraordinary situations but also in ordinary life. Just as lawyers can help us with the mundane details of a contract or an estate plan, so our Advocate can help us with the “ordinary” matters of our days–caring for children, relating to customers or vendors, devising plans for our work. All of this for the Christian is part of life in the kingdom under Jesus new covenant rule. Everything matters, and it matters so much that our Lord has not left us to stumble about on our own.

One of the ancient prayers of the church is “Veni Sancte Spiritus”, which means “come Holy Spirit”. Maybe one of the simplest steps you and I can take when we are conscious of our need for help is to pray these three words and to invite his counsel. Where do you need to listen to Him today? This week?

Going Deeper: A Book of Glory or A Confusing Book?

Bible open to John. (c)2015, Robert C Trube

Bible open to John. (c)2015, Robert C Trube

For 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!

All the posts I’ve made for our “Going Deeper” blog now appear as a separate category on my home page.

A God, A Rulebook, or Trustworthy Testimony

Bible open to John 5. (c)2015, Robert C Trube

Bible open to John 5. (c)2015, 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.

There’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?

“Our Healing is in our Obedience”

Pieter Aertsen 1507/08 – 1575 The Healing of the Cripple of Bethesda

Pieter Aertsen 1507/08 – 1575
The Healing of the Cripple of Bethesda

“Our healing is in our obedience.”

I’ve been musing on this phrase ever since Rich [Hagopian, for those of you who don’t know my pastor] said this during this past Sunday’s message on the healing of the invalid at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-15.

The basic story is that Jesus comes upon this man who he has learned has been in this condition for 38 years. It was believed that if you could get into the water when it was stirred, you could be healed.

Jesus asks him, “do you want to be well?” The man never answers this searching question. Yet it had to be asked–you can get accustomed to being sick, having others care for you and so forth, to the point that healthy life is the scary thing.

Instead, the man gives the many reasons why he could not get into the pool before others. This provokes all kinds of questions and one wonders if this is a pretty lame excuse.

Jesus neither questions the answer or re-asks his original question. Jesus doesn’t blame or judge him. Instead, Jesus simply tells him to get up and take his mat with him. The man does what Jesus says, and in so doing, in the moment of obedience, finds himself healed. His healing is in his obedience. In doing what Jesus says, he finds he is able to walk.

It seems to me that this speaks to those critical moments where we face the choice to trust and follow Jesus in some critical area of obedience, or not. On the one hand, we often can come up with many reasons why we haven’t been able to follow up until now. On the other hand, we sometimes want all kinds of assurances and proofs that Jesus will heal us, help us, be with us, before we follow.

And like this incident, there will be times where none of it matters.

The only thing in those moments is, will we trust that Jesus knows what he is doing enough to do what he says? Sometimes, that is all he will give us and we can only find whether he is true by obeying him.

Probably in my own life, the area where I’ve most been challenged by this is in the matter of giving. It seems crazy, mathematically at least, to set aside a portion of my salary each month for kingdom purposes and to somehow believe that what remains (especially after Uncle Sam gets his chunk!) will be enough. There is no way to know that will be the case before you do it! Yet the crazy paradox is that it is the times when I’ve not been faithful in giving where I’ve felt the most financially stressed. Leaning into giving and generosity, as crazy as it seems, has been the thing that has helped heal me from being obsessed about having “enough.” My healing in the areas of worry about money has been in obedience.

And God has taken care of us through 36-plus years of marriage, and sometimes miraculously, such as the time when we were facing $2000 in unreimbursed medical bills, and the same day we added this up we received a gift of $2000 from someone who said God had told them to send us a check.

I continue to face these moments where I simply have to decide, will I trust Jesus enough to do what he says, laying aside my excuses and not asking for any proofs (which really don’t make obedience easier).

What about you? It might be that the place where you find it hard to trust and obey is the very place where Jesus can bring healing as you obey. What does “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” look like for you?

This blog also appears on Smoky Row Brethren Church’s Going Deeper blog.

No Wine Before Its Time

By Sujit kumar (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sujit kumar (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“We will sell no wine before its time” was a famous tag line from a series of commercials featuring Orson Welles in the 1970s. There were a number of “untimely” occurrences in the wedding at Cana incident where Jesus turns water into wine, which we considered this past Sunday in our pastor’s message on John 2:1-12:

  • The wedding wine was running out, an embarrassment to the bridegroom and his family.
  • When Jesus’s mother tells him about the problem, he responds, “my hour has not yet come.”
  • Mom ignores Jesus’s words and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.
  • Jesus tells the servants to fill up six 20-30 gallon containers used for hand washing with clean water and then take some to the banquet master.
  • The banquet master upbraids the bridegroom for his “untimely” saving of the best wine for last.

So what time is it when Jesus does these kinds of things at a wedding? What most impressed me was that turning ceremonial cleansing water to wine is considered the first of seven signs John records to point us to how Jesus will give life to those who put their trust in him. The question is: what is the reality toward which this sign points?

The ceremonial water pointed toward the Jews awareness that they were a people set apart by God and that they were to live this in all of life. Cleanliness really was next to godliness for these people–it represented outwardly what they wanted to be true inwardly–to be a people for God, to worship God in community with all the others who share in this solemn promise called a covenant.

The problem with washing your hands is that you have to do it over and over again–and cleaning up my outsides doesn’t necessarily clean up my insides. And this is the wonder of what Jesus signifies in this sign–that he is the giver of the new wine that replaces the ceremonial water. We drink of him and it transforms us from the inside out.

But wine does something more. As Psalm 104:15 says, “Wine gladdens the heart.” The wine Jesus gives replaces ritual adherence with the joy and celebration of the bridegroom who has come!

There is one other element of “time” to consider here–Jesus’s statement that his hour had not yet come. What’s that all about? It seems that what Jesus is acknowledging to his mother is that it is not yet time for him to die for the sins of the world and that what she is asking will actually put him on the path that ends at the cross. The sign of wine reminds us of the cup we drink in communion that signifies and ushers us into the blood-bought intimacy with God we enjoy.

Rich concluded with a question and statement that I am pondering this week.

The question: Do we drink deeply of Jesus?

The statement: Most often, what we need most of Jesus is Jesus himself.

This challenges me in the busyness of life, and even my “religious” busyness–am I still over at water jugs washing my hands or even fretting about all the things “running out” in my life? Or am I coming with all this to drink deeply of the wine of Jesus? How about you?

Double Vision

IMG_2270Double vision. We usually do not consider this a good thing. A friend of ours suffering from MS could not drive for a period of time because of problems with double vision. Double vision resulting from crossed eyes (strabismus) in children is treated surgically as early as possible so the brain does not become accustomed to seeing double.

At the conclusion of our pastor’s message this week, our pastor spoke of the importance of a certain kind of double vision that not only appraises and celebrates where God has brought us thus far, but also looks to the future and the good that God might do among us. His message was a kind of “review” for our congregation that explored both where we are, and where, under God’s grace, we might go.

I was also struck that there is another kind of “double vision” that was evident to me in this message. It is the double vision that looks both at our congregation and our community. I was grateful for the reflection upon each and the model of “watchful brooding” over both, the kind of watchfulness shepherds exercise that watches both the flock and the surroundings, both for good pastures and possible threats. Here are some of my own responses to each:

Congregation (Who We Are): One important insight that Rich shared was our “highly-leveraged” character. For the most part, it is not a challenge to get us to “do more” and I am grateful that this is reflected in a recognition that we don’t need to add more things to our programming or congregational calendar. Most of us see our “ministry” as something that happens outside the church walls and our impact isn’t necessarily reflected in church growth so much as in the various workplaces, organizations, and informal networks we work in. There is a kind of hiddenness in this that seems attractive and is contrary to the ABC of “attendance, budget, and campus” that serves as the metric of success in American Christianity.

Two reflections in this regard: 1) It might be fun to “map” our involvements and explore the question, “if this is how God is gifting and calling each of us, how might he be calling ALL of us?” 2) It seems that what happens in our gatherings on Sundays, in Life groups and other gatherings in some way sustains and equips us for a good deal of ministry on the outside.  What was shared about having a “contextually appropriate strategy for deepening the spiritual transformation, the growth of discipleship” for our congregation really makes sense!

Community (Where We Are): I so appreciate the continued dreaming our pastor and so many are doing about serving the community that is northwest Columbus now. We have a Governance Team that really serves us well! One interesting insight for me, though, from the message, is that our building and property really is a key interface between our congregation and the wider community.

What is real for the community that encounters us is a place located at 7260 Smoky Row Road. It is a place where food is stored and distributed by caring people. It is a place where students, who traditional schools have been unable to help, have another alternative. It is a place where people grow fresh food while children play on our ark. It is a place where singers rehearse in our worship space, using our chairs and piano and lighting, while glimpsing the tangible signs of our life together as they come in and out. It is a place where people vote, and experience welcome as they do so.

So, while it doesn’t seem glamorous and seems “institutional” to pay attention to buildings, what struck me from what Rich shared is how many “flesh-and-blood” human beings interface with our congregation through the building and grounds at Smoky Row. As was noted, we’ve made lots of headway over the last years in improvements. But this realization also helps me see how urgent it is to pray for someone with the skills and passion needed to lead our stewardship of this place God has given us that is such a crucial interface with our community.

I’m moved by this message that as I pray for our church, I need to pray with “double vision” not only with regard to our past and future, but also with regard to praying both for our congregation, and for the community in the midst of which we gather and who we are called to serve. Our pastor gave us a great model of paying close attention both to what is going on inside our church and in our community. I hope I can imitate that as I pray for our life and mission.

These are the things that particularly encouraged and challenged me. How about you?

Going Deeper Questions: If you are from Smoky Row, what most encouraged you and what most challenged you from Rich’s message?

If you are someone else following the blog, what would it mean to have “double-vision” for your church and your community? What do you see as you look at each in your context?

This post also appears on our church’s Going Deeper blog.