DIVINE MUTUALITY

John 15 & 17

“Radical equality”, as we talked about last time, is not truly possible without “divine mutuality”. This is what Jesus talks about in John 15 with Vine and branch imagery–to be so very intertwined…with God.

In His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples, and for those who will become His disciples (us!), and this is all held together by unity.

But not just any unity.

The unity of Divine Mutuality.

This is unity at its deepest level because it is based in God. Jesus prays that we will be able to reach that oneness, the oneness that He has with the Father. Many preach that John 17 is advocating unity with one another, but a more careful reading reveals that Jesus is speaking of union with the Father, which yields unity with one another, if it is Christ, as He really is, whom we are truly seeking. Branches on the same Vine are inescapably unified.

This kind of cosmic, radical unity, this oneness, is as Logos and Father are one [John 1:1-18]. Again, this is not just any ol’ run of the mill unity here. Unity doesn’t really come to fruition through our striving to be unified with one another, for that gets chaotic and breaks down very quickly. As A. W. Tozer so wisely said, “Don’t you know that a hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically in tune with each other?” It is in tuning our hearts in all sincerity, honesty, humility, receptivity, and openness to the Christ, the Son of God, that we will then be unified with others who are seeking the same. The Spirit in us will recognize the Spirit in them, and we will be one, aligned with each another at the soul-level of connection…without much striving.

This is how we can disagree, and yet be in unity. I have dear Christian brothers and sisters with whom we do not see eye to eye on several issues, but we are at the same time unified because of our pursuit of oneness with God through Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s connection beyond words, because it’s better than words.

RADICAL EQUALITY

John 13

So He got up from the supper-table, took off His clothes, and wrapped a towel around Himself. Then He poured water into a bowl and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel He was wrapped in.

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

My wife Ana and I attended our first conference given by one of the monks at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Eugene Hensell, in November. The title of the conference was “Praying With The Gospel Of John”, and was rich and refreshing to say the least! It was exquisitely awesome to hear the gleanings of a man who has not only dedicated his life to prayer, reflection, and holy work, but who has taught on the Gospel of John for about thirty years! Seeing as how we are not to just keep these things all to ourselves, I look forward to sharing some of the insights we absorbed from a most wonderful weekend.

In taking off His outer garment and wrapping a towel around Himself, Jesus demonstrably and clearly takes the role of servant, an easy to see sign of great humility. In His time and culture, males did not touch another person’s feet in public. True, this is a private setting with the disciples, but still would have been pretty awkward for them. Honor and superior position were celebrated, and any shame was feared.

Recall from the incredible prologue back in chapter one of John’s Gospel that he tells us just who this Jesus is–none other than the Creator of the universe, of all things. And now here He is in human form doing what only the most servile would do, washing the dusty feet of other men.

Somewhat side note: Jesus asks the disciples in verse 12, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?” This would be a good prayer question for meditation and contemplation. You might sit with this question from Jesus to you, and listen to what the Spirit might speak.

Then in verse 34 Jesus gives a new commandment: To love one another. “Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

What’s so new about this?

How has He loved us?

Well, it goes back to the foot washing. He has become our equal!

RADICIAL EQUALITY.

That’s how He’s loved us. And that’s how we are to love each other.

Again, the Creator of all things is now on our level washing our dirty feet. Rarely do you really see people loving one another as true equals. No one says, “I’m striving to be radically equal!” But this is Jesus’s key instruction on how to live as disciples after He is no longer here in physical form (v.15). In 15:12 He says, “You’re my friends if you do this.” Wow.

You may ask, “How can love be commanded?” Well, the command is a specific way to love. How we love can be shaped, and here is how you love like God loves. Jesus showed us God, and here we see the way God, who is love, loves: by stooping, giving up all rank, position, and power, and choosing to sacrificially become our equal even to the point of the cross, showing us tangibly that there is no place too low, where He won’t go to love us and demonstrate it clearly in plain sight. Radically.

RADICAL EQUALITY.

Or we might even call it ridiculously humble service. Who is turned off by this? I mean, who doesn’t at least kind of wonder what a person has in them who serves others in this manner??

And this is how we are also to love–the way God loves (v.14). Recognizing, accepting, and internalizing just what He has done for us (not necessarily comprehending, because, let’s be honest, who really can?), will supernaturally energize and motivate us to love in this manner of radical equality.

Christmas is a fantastic time for gratefully remembering that God chose to enter the human condition, become one of us, taking on all of our limitations, problems, and suffering to make real the promise of redemption.

 

Called to Lose

Matthew 10:39

“…if you lose your life because of Me you’ll find it.”

Mark 8:35

“…if you lose your life because of Me and the Message you’ll save it.”

As Christ followers, it seems we are called to LOSE. And by LOSE, I mean Listen, Observe, Serve, and Encourage.

Listen without thinking. To listen to someone without thinking, without forming your response before they’re finished, without judgement–this is difficult, yet magical. How deeply it honors someone to simply listen to them, for it communicates, “What you have to say is very important, and it’s important because you’re you.”

Observe lovingly. Then we observe someone, mostly through what we see (since touching, tasting, and smelling people can be a bit creepy), through a loving look with the intent to notice what they may be needing right now. Trying to see them as God sees them, lovingly, and even asking God to show us how He sees them and/or what He would like us to see.

Serve out of your observation. I love that the word serve is in the word observe. From the Latin observare, ‘to watch’, from ob-‘towards’+servare, ‘attend to, look at’. Chances are, if you take action serving after you’ve listened to someone without thinking, observed them lovingly, and asked God for insight, you’ll serve them very well and accurately according to their true needs. You don’t want to be the missionary who enthusiastically built a library in a village only to find out after putting the roof on that the literacy rate there was 1%!

Encourage with words. Again, if we listen first, we’ll be better at giving an encouraging word, because it will communicate to that person that we’ve been listening to them. In The Ripple Effect, we’ve always stressed the beautiful command of Hebrews 3:13 to encourage one another every day. Encourage someone today. Just do it. It’s amazing how uplifting an encouraging word can be to someone, and it’s ridiculously simple to perform.

So may we LOSE in life in order that others may find Life.

Going against the kingdom of this world, you might say we’re each called to be a LOSER, a Listening, Observing, Serving, Encouraging Rebel..!

Filling at the Station of Contemplation

CPN5R9 transport / transportation, car, petrol station, BP petrol station, filling station attendant is helping customer during the ref

1 Peter 1:23

You have been born again, not from seed which decays but from seed which does not–through the living and abiding word of God.

Soaking in this verse recently, what shimmered for me was “the living and abiding word of God.”

“Word” here is translated from the Greek logos, a word so pregnant with meaning that some say there are no adequate words in human language to convey its cosmic depth as used in Holy Scripture. But since through this particular medium we’re using written words, let’s throw some together to give us a starting point.

We might say that logos is the creative expression of God, the agent of creation. God created the universe through His word. So, Jesus is the creative expression of God as a human being. Peter says logos here is the Gospel that was announced to you (v.25b). It is living and abiding–active now and always true, never expiring. I don’t believe we will ever completely comprehend the Gospel–God dying for us–in this life. Therefore, it will always do us good to sit and contemplate it, to just take it in and be grateful for this great mystery of love and sacrifice.

Our new life in Christ, our rebirth, is initiated and matured not by any human agency, but by this living and abiding word of the living and eternal God. “It is a means of spiritual life, animating us and exciting us in our duty,” said Matthew Henry in his commentary. It has vital, life-giving power because of who speaks it. “New life operates on the word of the living and eternal God,” said some dude named Bede a long time ago.

So as I was contemplating this phrase, the living and abiding word of God, I was thinking how non-negotiably necessary it is to run on this fuel for the spiritual life–to operate on the word of God, and how we must connect to this Source.

I was given the picture of a filling station (what people use to call gas stations). I wrote down, as I felt directed, in the margin of my Bible, “Filling at the station of contemplation–making a complete stop to do so.”

Your car runs on gasoline, and must be filled regularly. When you go to the filling station, one thing is required for sure in order to fill your car: You must come to a complete stop! I love this metaphor showing us that we too, must regularly come to a complete stop, not only to rest/sleep, but to really be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Typically, also, you turn your car off, which we might compare to turning your brain off. Sometimes we need some time to stop thinking. We tend to think ourselves into insanity, don’t we? After turning the car off, we get out of our car to refuel. When we sit with God and soak in His presence, His word, the Gospel, we needs must get outside of ourselves. Drop our preconceptions, hang-ups, etc. and let the Spirit take us and guide us. To just receive.

When we contemplate, we simply receive. Meditation is chewing on something, and contemplation is just sitting with something, allowing the flow of it to wash over you. Both are great practices, and vital for growth in spiritual life and health.

May we take time daily, even if for a few minutes, to fill up at the station of contemplation, receiving from God Himself, making a complete stop to do so.

Gratefulness is the Key Ingredient to Cultivating Joy

1 John 1:1-4

Our message concerns that which was from the beginning. We have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we have gazed at it and our hands have touched it: the life-giving Word!…We bear witness to what we have seen and heard…so that your joy may be complete.

As we take in this week of celebrating thankfulness, it is a good reminder that gratefulness is the key ingredient to cultivating joy. And “Joy is the gist of the Christian Good News,” says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a very wise, old Austrian-born Benedictine monk. He goes on to say:

Joy goes beyond happiness. Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens. It springs from gratefulness. When we begin to take things for granted, we get sucked into boredom. Boredom is deadly. Yet, everything within us longs for “life, life in fullness” (John 10:10). The key to life in fulness is gratefulness.

So tomorrow, perhaps you can be an instigator of joy cultivation in the midst of food and football, through a little intentionality.

A few Thanksgivings ago, our family tried a simple little exercise I read about in a beautiful book titled Joy Starts Here. After the meal, we sat in the living room, and one by one we shared our appreciation for each another. We started with my wife Ana in the “hot seat”, and we then went around the circle giving each person a chance to share what they appreciated about Ana. Then we moved on to the person to her left, and around until everyone was adequately appreciated. The children participated as well, of course, and everyone was in tears of joy by the time we were finished! I’m getting a little emotional right now just thinking back on it. I highly recommend it! Or at least some practice of intentional gratitude and appreciation such as this. With a little planning, we can make a routine gathering incredibly more meaningful! (I did give everyone a little heads up so that they could be thinking ahead of time on what they appreciated about each person)

And as a bonus, I’ll leave you with this individual practice from Brother David:

Try this: before you open your eyes in the morning, stop and think. Remember that there are millions of blind people in this world. Surely, you will open your eyes more gratefully, even if you’d rather keep them closed a little longer and snooze on. As soon as we stop taking our eyesight for granted, gifts spring into our eyes which we did not even recognize as gifts before. To recognize a gift as gift is the first step towards gratefulness. Since gratefulness is the key to joy, we hold the key to joy, the key to what we most desire, in our own hands….

To Obey is to Listen

Perhaps obedience isn’t merely what most of us have always been taught it is–doing what someone tells you to do. Sure, that is a quite helpful and needed aspect of it, but it’s so much more.

Obedience means literally a thorough listening.

In Latin, ob audire, “to obey,” means to listen thoroughly. The Jewish tradition says, “to bare your ear.” In fact, in many, many forms, in many, many languages, the word for obedience is an intensive form of the word listening.

Think about this for a minute. How does this deepen all those Scriptures in which obedience is emphasized or commanded? Maybe, just maybe, God’s chief concern is not that His creatures keep all the rules, but that they listen to Him thoroughly.

Isnt that of much greater depth? For it is in listening thoroughly that we honor someone. And in an intensive listening we are taking in to ourselves the other. Whenever you truly listen with all your being, there is a transformation that takes place on the soul level that simply doesn’t happen by the mere outward, thoughtless doing of what someone tells you to do. Surely God, who created the universe, is deeper than that.

I believe that a thorough listening to God, if there is any desire for Him and a teachable spirit, will automatically result in doing what He says to do anyway. Of course it will not be perfect every time, but we will continue to be perfected as His grace meets our weakness.

Do you ever take time to actually listen to God? Through His creation, His Scriptures, His people, His Son, His Spirit?

If not, why not?

Pray a Blessing~Don’t Utter a Curse

About halfway trough this 30 day fast from talking about anyone not in the room, I’ve noticed several things. First, as expected, a heightened awareness of just how much we talk about people. And with that, I have recognized how often I react to people with judgment. So much more than I want to admit.

But with this awareness came a revlelatory practice as a cleanser for the inside of my cup (Matthew 23:26). Whenever I feel the urge to talk about someone in any manner within even a thousand miles of negativity, or whenever I start to judge someone in my heart, I immediately pray a blessing over them and their day. I don’t fret over praying elegantly or with profundity, I just shoot up a simple prayer as quickly as I can from the moment the judgement surfaces.

“Lord, I pray a blessing over that guy in the red car.”

“God, please draw her closer to you today and bless her.”

BOOM.

Oh what this does for your heart! By refusing to verbalize (and therefore strengthen) any of the negativity, and counteracting it with a blessing, the heart begins to change toward that person. Toward all people. Your reactions become loving responses in more and more situations.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for showing me this wonderful practice of peace toward others, for You, and for the molding of me into Your likeness.

Blessed, and sometimes painful, theosis!

For 30 Days: Don’t Talk About Anybody

Today is day one of a thirty day fast, an experiment if you will, from talking about anybody who is not in the room. And I mean good talk as well as bad–a total fast. Because even good talk can devolve so quickly and easily. So I’m going to cut it all, do a cleanse, and see what happens.

There will probably be some awkwardness in conversations, some uncomfortable silences, weird transitions…and, there will probably be a cut-off of the supply line of negative energy, gossip, complaining, as well as a reduction in anger and stress. I’m just guessing.

The inspiration for this fast came from listening again to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” In chapter four, under a heading The Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue, he states that “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be verbalized.” I believe, in this case, that this is not just bottling everything up, but simply refraining from speaking evil of another (James 4:11-12). He goes on to say, “talking about others in secret is not allowed even under the pretense of help and goodwill.”

By the way, my fast includes people I don’t know and famous people. So please don’t try to talk to me about any politicians..!

Ok, here it goes. It’s been positive so far!

Don’t let any unwholesome words escape your lips. Instead, say whatever is good and will be useful in building people up, so that you will give grace to those who listen.  ~Ephesians 4:29


My theory is that after the thirty days I will find that it is indeed helpful to have one or two trusted people with whom I can share concerns and who will keep me honest. We need to be kept honest, for there is “seeking wise counsel”, and then there’s just complaining and whining. Also, if I have a real concern for someone, I probably don’t need to share with seventeen different people.

Growth Through Removal (part 2)

I love our chiropractor for a myriad of reasons, one of which is their overarching philosophy and approach: God designed your body to heal itself. We simply remove whatever is in the way of inhibiting that flow of healing. Your body does the rest–the real work. There have been so many times in which they have helped me through some sort of injury, and I tell them “Thank you,” and they respond with, “Hey, we just got everything out of the way to free your body up to do the work of healing itself.”

Jesus, if we allow Him, simply frees us up so that we can experience His healing touch upon our very lives. When nothing is blocking our view, we realize He is always with us, always good, and and always out for us–for our very best.

I keep the Lord in mind always. Because He is at my right hand I will not be shaken.   ~Psalm 16:8

What is holding you back from keeping the Lord in mind always?

It is extremely likely that it is is something within your control or something the Holy Spirit will assist you in removing.

Growth Through Removal (part 1)

Much of maturation is, somewhat ironically, more ridding than adding–the ridding of one’s self of inhibitors, more than the adding of virtues.

The other day, Zayra was looking for her school pants in the laundry basket, and after a matter of a few seconds, claimed, “They’re not in here.” (Fortunately, this only happens 400 times a month.) I then coached her to start removing items from the basket one by one until she sees what she’s  looking for. Seven seconds later: “Found ’em!”

Shocking.

In order to see something, whatever is obstructing it’s view must be cast aside.

I believe this to be the issue much of the time in our spiritual life. Most all of us have plenty in the way of information, doctrine, and even answers to prayer. Yet we still lack faith. We fail to trust. Why?

A significant portion of the time, I feel our view of Jesus is blocked. Blocked by the cares of this world. Blocked by Facebook. Blocked by Netflix. Blocked by SportsCenter. By people doing things we don’t like (that’s a big one for me). By bad habits. By gossip. By politics, news, meaningless discussions, and sometimes…church. I’ve been to many a Sunday services in which I actually felt distracted from God. Weird.

In a word, we are blocked from seeing God by attachments.

Much of what the Christian mystics have written of over the centuries is detachment. The more we possess, the more that possesses us, because there will be more that requires, at least on some level, our attention. And this is not merely material goods, though it is not less than that.

Habits of actions and thoughts can have their hooks in us so much so that they steal much of our focus everyday–focus that could be extended toward Jesus, toward the Holy Spirit speaking and working, toward those around us in great need spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

The more we can remove, the less there will be that will have a chance to greedily grab our focus each day. Then, the more energy we will have available for the One who deserves our full attention.