Life Together

We realize that our lives are enriched as we draw near to God together. So, please post your comments, prayers, reflections and thoughts after the readings. Use this for your devotions, pray for the author or send to a friend who is disheartened. We'll use the golden rule to edit/remove all posts and comments but please feel free to engage in the Journey On Conversation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chapter 12

Chapter 12 – Prayer
We, the human race, struggle to have meaningful conversations. How many meetings have you set through with the central topic of how to communicate? How many times have you been challenged to improve your communication skills? Communication is our greatest opportunity.

Some of the questions that float through my sub consciousness, and consciousness are:
What if I say the wrong thing?
What if I neglect something of significance?
What if I cannot engage the audience?

Wright’s approach:
“Our Father...”
Prayer between Heaven and Earth
Discovering Help in Prayer
More Pathway’s into Prayer
Getting Started
Questions to ponder on and discuss:

The prayer Jesus taught us to pray remarkably leaves out the word I and in the translations that I have read the words what if aren’t part of the prayer at all.

His prayer:
“Our Father .... (whatever translation you would like)

“...It’s a prayer about God’s honor and glory. It’s a prayer about God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven—which...pretty much sums up what a lot of Christianity is all about.” (pg.160)

Prayer between Heaven and Earth
“We are called to live at the overlap both of heaven and earth—the earth has yet to be fully redeemed as one day it will be—and of God’s future and this world’s present.” (pg 163) How could we possibly know how to pray? Paul writes in Romans 8:26 that God’s Spirit intercedes for us. I found this section to be intriguing. There is a statement that lingers, I don’t have words to elaborate or explain, but here it is. “...the Spirit, God himself is groaning from within the heart of the world, because God himself, by the Spirit, dwells in our hearts as we resonate with the pain of the world.” (pg 162) Sit with those words a minute.

Discovering Help in Prayer
Wright points out that “...discovering that there are ways of being helped in prayer by using words and forms written and shaped by others comes as good news...”. (pg 167) God has met me in the word authentic, there’s a part of me that wants to be right. I don’t want to be fake or futile. Humility... coming to the realization that I do not have to recreate the wheel, God has provided me, us, with many holy examples of prayer.

More Pathway’s into Prayer
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (pg 168) In the simplicity of these words there is an invitation “...a way of coming into focus, of going down deep and out wide, of concentrating on the God we know in Jesus as the one we can trust in all circumstances, and of holding before his mercy all that we want to pray about...” (pg 168)
Remove yourself, your stuff, all that you think you ought to be and hear the words of this prayer Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. What stirs inside of you? There are many such prayers that God has provided to minister to us through our spiritual journey, as you pray them listen for God’s response.

Getting Started
Pastors, mentors, spiritual directors, friends, and books are all guides that God has provided to help us, to encourage us. Use them.
As God reveals more of himself to us through prayer, our will become his will. We will find our passions become his passions, our prayers a response to his groaning through the Spirit in us.

“But for all of us, Christian prayer is God’s gift. “Through the Messiah we have access, by faith, to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2). We are welcomed into God’s very presence. Like John in Revelation 4 and 5, we see through prayer a door standing in heaven, and we are ushered into the throne room.
But we are no longer there as mere observers. We are there as beloved children. Let Jesus himself have the last word: “If you, then, evil as you are, know how to five good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7 – Jesus and the Coming of God’s Kingdom
“This is a persistent mistake, based on the medieval notion that the point of all religion – the rule of the game, if you like – was to make sure you ended up at the right side of the stage at the end of the mystery play (that is in heaven rather than hell)” (p 92)
That is probably true of a lot of our persistent religious mistakes – that they are based on medieval or past notions. The medieval notions would keep us focused on what we do and even more what we cannot do. That is we cannot conquer sin. No, we need a Savior to set us free.
We humans like to do things ourselves. It’s all about me! I can hear Joyce Meyer squawking across the stage “What about me? – What about me? – What about me?” Really, what about you? Why do you believe in Jesus? Why did you submit your will to Him? Were you afraid of going to hell or did you see your brokenness and truly seek Him as your only possible Savior? The Savior, who can break the chains, can set us free and can make us truly whole. “We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves” (p 92) – what an invitation!
Wright would have us see Jesus as the bridge between Heaven and earth, between human and God, between this world and God’s kingdom, between our past and our future. Look into his writing about Israel and insert yourself. (Hey, maybe this is about you!) Jesus came to show us a different way, a revolutionary way to live. The Israelites wanted a King to set them free, bring back the good old days and fulfill the prophecies. Jesus brought them the stories and healings, the message to lead them to the freedom they sought. Two thousand years later are we truly hearing the message or are we still making the same persistent mistake of looking for what we want?
Questions to ponder on and discuss:
1. Why do you think it has gone “out of fashion”, if you would, to speak about hell in our churches? Do you believe in heaven and hell?
2. Do you believe Jesus was a revolutionary? How would you describe Him if you had to write “about the Jesus of our present experience” (p 95)?
3. A new world is described in this chapter, what do you imagine when your read that we are to “work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.”(p 92)?

Chapter 8 – Jesus: Rescue and Renewal
The truth … the way … here someone has written the story so succinctly.
What an interesting insight into Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies: “Jesus seems to have combined the two interpretations in a creative, indeed explosive, way. The Servant would be both royal and a sufferer.” (p 107) The Jews wanted a king, a hero, not a martyr. How sad that day at Golgotha that it was the centurion, harden to death and suffering from his many years of killing, was one of the few who really heard and considered “maybe this man was God’s Son after all.” (p 111) Yet, here we are two thousand years later and we do believe, but still our own terms. God calls the Israelites stiff-necked and tells Moses to talk to them, least He might destroy them (reference Exodus 33:5). Have our necks relaxed any or are we still so sure of ourselves and our own ways today? ‘I am the truth.’
Thinking in terms of how Jesus thought and studied is an interesting take. Even further is the thought that Jesus was not aware of His destiny, but that through His studies He was able “to shape his sense of what he had to do.”(p 108) This gives a whole new mosaic to the pattern of call. Why would a human take on such a plan? Where would any human obtain such audacity to believe they were capable of such a task? What faith is this? The modern day questions of WWJD falls so short it seems comical by comparison of this pattern for living. ‘I am the way.’
In Wright’s context he uses this insight to help us understand why the disciples and followers of Jesus believed He was divine. This becomes so much deeper when you look at the martyrs of the following centuries; dying because they knew Christ was “the unique embodiment of the one God of Israel” (p 117).
The thought that all our sins were carried by Christ on the hours upon the cross overwhelms me. That is every sin from Eden to Babylon, to Auschwitz, to Hiroshima, to 9/11, to beyond eternity was placed within this pure sinless mind and God looked away. In all this, Christ cried out for the pain of God’s separation only. Then, He asked for our forgiveness.
How can we make sense of this? I believe it comes down to love, just as Wright says in the final two paragraphs and just as Jesus gave in His new commandment. God calls each of us to be “one of those partners in love” (p 119).
1. Can you see any parallels between the Israelites expectations for the Temple of Jerusalem and the modern expectations upon the Church of today?
2. Wright gives God’s plan to rescue the world from evil on page 108. Does this fit with your beliefs?
3. In his Option Three, Wright sees heaven and earth as interlocked. How does that look to you?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5 – “God”

In the first four chapters of “Simply Christian,” Wright presents the picture of how God creates four “echoes” that resonate in each of us –

• The Longing for Justice
• The Quest for Spirituality
• The Hunger for Relationship
• The Delight in Beauty

In Chapter 5, he examines how God intersects with humans. He looks at how God’s space (heaven) and our space (earth) interact with one another. He presents three possibilities for this:

• Pantheism – The two worlds (heaven and earth) are basically the same. God is everywhere and everything. One manifestation of pantheism is multi-goded paganism such as the Greeks having a god for just about everything. This philosophy though has no room for evil -- if God is everywhere and everything, how can evil exist?
• Separation (Deism) – God is out there but completely separate from us. He has no desire for connection with us. This does not explain God’s working around us and it also leaves man devoid of hope.
• Interlocking (Theism) – The third possibility Wright expounds on is the one he supports – that God and man (heaven and earth) overlap and interlock with one another.

Here are words from page 65:
“This sense of overlap between heaven and earth, and the sense of God thereby being present on earth without having to leave heaven, lies at the heart of Jewish and early Christian theology. … for the ancient Israelite and early Christian, the creation of the world was the free outpouring of God’s powerful love. The one true God made a world that was other than himself, because that is what love delights to do. And, having made such a world, he has remained in a close, dynamic, and intimate relationship with it”

• What is there to your “story” – your faith journey – that has allowed you to see and embrace the concept of a God who strives to intersect in intimate relationship with His people?
• How does your belief in this area affect how you live? How do you carry your story out to the world?

Chapter 6 – “Israel”

From page 71 – “It is fundamental to the Christian worldview in its truest form that what happened in Jesus of Nazareth was the very climax of the long story of Israel.”

Throughout the story of Exodus, there was this going back and forth of God’s people. They would try to follow God but then they would get in the way of themselves. Self-importance would separate them from God. Their history involved moments of exile and homecoming with the Temple – the place where they saw the intersection of God and man as occurring.

God assured His people – all people – of His faithfulness to them and of final restoration of His Kingdom. But how was God going to reunite with His creation – what He loved most? He sent Jesus to intersect with us, be among us, and fix us from within by paving a way for redemption and grace. Wright attests that Jesus’ arrival was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel.

• How does the story of Israel relate to your own faith journey?
• How is Jesus in your life a fulfillment of God’s promise of faithfulness to you?
• What calling does God’s faithfulness to you place on your life?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Week Three Part Two - Chapter 4

Chapter Four—For the Beauty of the Earth

In 2002, Julie and I renewed our wedding vows. Our original wedding day was a wet, overcast event in which two very young and “in love” people committed themselves to something bigger than they either imagined. I had just graduated from college (barely) the week before and Julie really didn’t get to plan her wedding the way she would have wanted. It was beautiful and tasteful yet it was not what she had envisioned for that special day.

So on a beautiful spring morning in an outside garden service, Julie and I recommitted ourselves to the vows we had made ten years earlier. It was amazing. Julie was stunning in a simple white gown and hair up in flowers with curls hanging down framing her deep blue eyes. Samuel walked her down from the back door of the church to the garden of tall trees that shaded the area from the morning sun. Noah carried the second ring we found for the occasion and Emma tried her best to drop flower pedals for Julie to walk on. I was a little thinner in the waste (and the hair) than I was ten years earlier. Dear friends from seminary (whom we had spent the past five and a half years living life together—see the previous chapter) were there to celebrate with us and one of my favorite professors performed the ceremony.

It was beautiful but now, six years later, the beauty of that moment is gone. We have lots of photos and videos taken by neighbors. Yet in all of the photos and all of the video, nothing can capture the beauty of that day and that moment. Even in that moment though, we were left wanting more beauty.

Wright talks about the “transience of beauty” (pg. 40). A photograph, a recording, a book, a painting, a play, a film—all of these things are flashes of beauty that fade away. Wright says that beauty always leaves us wanting more. Beauty is “the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied….The world is full of beauty, but the beauty [itself] is incomplete” (pg. 40).

Wright suggests that we know, deep inside, that this beauty is fleeting and transient. But at the same time, we deeply long for a beauty that is permanent and lasting. Paul says that permanence is coming and today we see things through a dimly lit mirror but someday, “we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1st Cor. 13:12). Wright says that God promises to complete what God began “The beauty of this world will be enfolded in the beauty of God—and not just the beauty of God himself, but the beauty which, because God is the creator par excellence, he will create when the present world is rescued, healed, restored and completed.”

1. What did you experience this week (see, touch, smell, hear) that was beautiful? How does that compare with the most beautiful thing you have experienced?

2. Have you ever longed for beauty? What is it like? What is it like to experience beauty knowing that it won’t always be the way you experienced it for the moment you were there?

3. How has that beautiful thing, not lost its luster but left you longing for more beauty?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Week Three Part One - Chapter 3

Chapter Three—Made For Each Other

“It seems that we humans were designed to find our purpose and meaning not simply in ourselves and our own inner lives, but in one another and in the shared meanings and purposes of a family, a street, a workplace, a community, a town. A nation.” (pg. 31).

We were made for relationships. Life together. Community. The person who avoids relationships—the loner, the hermit, the recluse—are seen as unusual because they separate themselves from that which we all know deep in our being that we need—relationships.

Thus from the most intimate relationship (marriage) to those on the largest scale (national institutions) we find the same thing: we all know we are made to live together, but we all find that doing so is more difficult than we had imagined.” (pgs. 33).

Yet while we know the importance of relationships and regardless of whether we are “extroverts” or “introverts” we all long to be known by someone, we also know that relationships are incredibly difficult. Look at any the relationships you have with your family, your friends, your neighbors and your colleagues. Failed marriages. Dysfunctional families. Betrayed friendships. Politics at work. Is any of your relationships easy? How could something so desired, so longed for and so important to understanding who we are be at the same time so difficult, so damaging, so painful and mind-numbingly hard?

“Relationship was part of the way in which we were meant to be fully human, not for our own sake, but as part of a much larger scheme of things. And our failures in human relationship are thereby woven into our failures in the other large projects of which we know in our bones that we are part: our failure to put the world to rights in systems of justice, and our failure to maintain and develop that spirituality which, at its heart, involves a relationship of trust and love with the Creator” (pg. 37).

Wright ends his chapter with hope—It is only Christianity that shows us a God that loves healthy relationships. God is in relationship with Himself—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God desires relationship with God’s Creation and that model of health is what God desires for us both with God, with ourselves and with one another. “The voice is reminding us of who we really are. It may even be offering us some kind of rescue from our predicament…” (pg. 38).

Questions to think about—
1. How have the following relationships formed who you are today, both good and bad—
a. Your parents or guardians from when you were a child—
b. Your siblings—
c. Your Spouse or significant other—
d. Your Friends—

2. What is the most important relationship in your life today? What about that relationship makes it so important? How difficult is it to maintain that relationship?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Simply Christian Background

Todd Richards provided us with a great outline/summary of how NT Wright sets up his book. Here is a good overview:

N.T. “Tom” Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham. He was educated at Oxford and is considered as one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world today. He is as much a historian as a theologian in that Wright believes that to understand Christianity, one has to understand the Old Testament, first century Judaism and the early church.

Simply Christian is broken up into three sections. In section one, Wright looks at four “Echoes of a voice” that each hear—
• The Longing for Justice (Chapter One)
• The Quest for Spirituality (Chapter Two)
• The Hunger for Relationship (Chapter Three)
• The Delight in Beauty (Chapter Four)

These four Echoes are “universal intuitions” that each of us hear. They have been distorted though because the Voice is heard through our own line of personal defenses that we have to protect us from the outside world. As a result, justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty have been distorted and we fill our longing with versions of the four echoes that are less than they ought to be.

Section two talks about how these four themes are ultimately answered and redeemed through Jesus Christ and this thing called Christianity. Finally, section three outlines how we live into these four themes in the day-to-day of walking with Jesus.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Week Two – Chapters 1 & 2

Continuing in our study of N.T. Wright’s great work, I want to lift up some key quotes, some pertinent scriptures and some reflective questions. Enjoy and continue to share your processing with us by making comments below

Chapter One
“The art of being gentle – of kindness and forgiveness, sensitivity and thoughtfulness and generosity and humility and good old-fashioned love – have gone out of fashion. Ironically, everyone is demanding their “rights,” and this demand is so shrill that it destroys one of the most basic “rights,” if we can put it like that: the “right,” or at least the longing and hope, to have a peaceful, stable, secure, and caring place to live, to be, to learn, and to flourish. Once again people ask the question: Why is it like this? Does it have to be like this? Can things be put to rights and if so how?...we can say that the reason we have these dreams, the reason we have a sense of a memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear – someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves.” (page 8, 9)

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be satisfied. 7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

• Where does our sense of justice come from and how do my rights fit into God’s whispers for this reality?
• Where does the life of Jesus fit in with our sense of and the fulfillment of justice?

Chapter Two
“’The hidden spring’ of spirituality is the second feature of human life which, I suggest, functions as the echo of a voice; as a signpost pointing away from the bleak landscape of modern secularism and toward the possibility that we humans are made for more than this.” (page 20)

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 10 NLT
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

• How does your spirituality tell you that you were made for more?
• Jesus promises rest for our souls. If you experience that on a normal basis, what is it that gets you there?
• How does or should Christian spirituality affect making things right in the world?

My prayer for all of us today is that we would allow the voice of the One who called us and cares deeply about things being made right to cloud out the individualistic “rights” that are not from God and in fact are keeping us from living God’s Kingdom here as it is in heaven!