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Archive for September, 2013

Divine Commodities | John 2.13-14

Gospel of John headerMONDAY
Reflection 21 of 240

REFLECT
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting there.
John 2:13-14 | ESV

And now it was nearly time: the time of the Jewish Passover, the annual “Lamb’s Ordeal” celebration. And Jesus ascended from the armpit of Galilee to the resplendent head of power and worship in Jerusalem, the City of Peace. And what did he find in the temple? Business in full swing. Big business. Sellers marketing oxen and sheep and doves – all temple approved for sacrifice. And, what’s that, you don’t have the authorized temple coinage? No worries! Moneychangers are standing by – actually, they are sitting in their booths ready to convert foreign currency into holy coin for only a small fee; but wait, there’s more!

But Jesus didn’t wait. He couldn’t take one more minute of it.  MAV

RECEIVE
“When I have a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion, then I go and paint the stars.” ~ van Gogh

“Not long ago I was attending a ministry conference at a very large church. The setting was impressive by any measure. The mammoth auditorium sat thousands in cushioned theater seats rising heavenward. Wherever I looked a dozen flat-panel displays crammed my field of vision with presenters flashing their high-definition smiles. And the stage was alive, a mechanical beast to behold. It was moving fluidly, breathing smoke, and shooting lasers through its digital chameleon skin. The band members were spread across the platform as jagged teeth in the beast’s mouth, and the drummer was precariously suspended from the ceiling like a pagan offering. But even this spectacle could not hold me. In fact, with each passing minute I felt a growing need to escape.” ~ Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity

Jethani’s book The Divine Commodity is a pastor’s contemplation on American corporate church life, overlaid on the life story of Vincent van Gogh. It’s been one of those reads that has stuck with me, probably because he made van Gogh stick with me. After reading The Divine Commodity I began looking for yellow in my world – yellow being the color of the divine for van Gogh. In his famous work Starry Night, the stars are bright yellow, there’s yellow in the moon, in the swirling clouds, in the lights in the sleepy town. But in the middle of the town, conspicuously, the church is yellowless, its windows dark. From van Gogh’s vantage point, the church right at the center of town had a closed existence, living unto itself, more about power games and good business than caring for the poor. Jethani quotes Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the Senate: “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.” We might challenge the church to be more green, but perhaps the reality is in this country and culture, too many churches are far too green already in a totally different sense. As Jesus surveyed those temple courtyards he probably would have said the color was more metallic. Bronze. Silver. Gold. But he was looking for yellow. We want to avoid yellow in old photographs – and if we want to insult someone we call them “yellow.” But this kind of yellow we desperately need. The church of Jesus needs to be yellowed. Perhaps we can see Jesus’ clearing of those temple courtyards through such an artistic lens: the Divine Artist furiously clears the canvas, cleansing it of its metallic hues, so it can be splattered with bold streaks of dazzling Divine Yellow…

RELATE
How present are yellow hues in your church, your home, your heart? What needs to be cleared off the canvas in each area so that a fresh Divine painting can begin?

RESPOND
Lord, color my world, my heart, my vision with bold, bright splashes of the Divine. Save me from the trap of turning you into an enterprise; clear the canvas of my life and splatter your goodness and mercy in broad, wild, streaks on me, in me, through me. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

starry-night


Climbing Jacob’s Ladder | John 1.50-51

Gospel of John headerFRIDAY
Reflection 20 of 240

REFLECT
Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  John 1:50-51| ESV

And Jesus wasn’t slow in his response. “Wait a minute, because I said, ‘I saw you under the fig tree’ you’re ready to buy in, all in? You haven’t seen anything yet, friend.” And then Jesus thoughtfully added, “Put this in ALL CAPS with a double underline: You will see heaven having been opened wide and staying that way, the Great Mystery right before your eyes. You will have Jacob’s dream all over again with angels of God going up and coming down, full access, heaven and earth bridged – only the bridge isn’t some ladder or stairway this time; it’s the Son of Man, the Ultimate Human Being. And this time, it’s not a dream.”  MAV

RECEIVE
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…
Every rung goes higher and higher…
Every new rung just, just makes us stronger…

It’s a Bruce Springsteen song. Huey Lewis has his own version, and I’ve heard Bruce Hornsby sing it too. And of course Led Zeppelin sang of the Stairway to Heaven. We’re climbing Jacob’s ladder, doing the best we can, step-by-step, rung by rung. We all hear that song and do our own rung dance to it. But it’s not what Jacob dreamed. I like to think that this is what Nathanael was contemplating under that fig tree when he was alone, but not. If so, this is more of Jesus reading his mail – and in so doing reading ours too. We all see ourselves as Jacobs, filled with our share of flaws and deceit, doing the best we can and hoping as we climb each rung of that ladder that it will all be good enough when our life is through and we run out of rungs. But this isn’t what Jacob dreamed. And it certainly isn’t good news. Jacob is on the run from home, more or less a fugitive from his own family when his own deceit and manipulations landed him in hot water. So he runs. Then he stops for the night, lies down propping his head up with a stone and sleeps and dreams. I imagine not a ladder, but the massive stairway of what we know as a ziggurat – cultural holy places resembling a pyramid with a stairway leading to the “God spot” at the top. Holy men and priestesses would make the climb to the holy, step by exhausting step. It’s what religion does. But this ziggurat has angels ascending and descending in free and open concourse between heaven and earth. And the next thing Jacob knows, God is standing with him, next to him, affirming the same promises and presence to him that had been with his fathers. (You can read about this in Genesis 28.) The key point is that Jacob’s feet never touched the stairway. Jacob didn’t climb anything, nor do we. It’s a stairway of divine incarnation, not of human aspiration. God comes down. And Nathanael is looking right at the Stairway as he looks into the face of Jesus. And he will live to see it opened wide before the eyes of people “from every nation under heaven” on a day called Pentecost. And yes, that’s a major spoiler. But it’s a spoiler Jesus threw at an incredulous Nathanael. I imagine he didn’t get it, any more than the rest of his companions would get anything over the next years with Jesus. The question is, do we? Or are we still trying to build that stairway and to climb it?

RELATE
To what extent do you feel stuck on Jacob’s ladder climbing day after day, rung by rung, step by step? How can we step out of that nightmare into the reality of Jacob’s dream?

RESPOND
Holy Spirit, open the eyes of my heart to see the holy place where I am right now. Deliver me from the fruitless and futile unending effort of climbing a stairway of our own efforts. Remind me that you are already standing right here with me, and that, even in the midst of whatever mess I face today, I am already reclining with you in heavenly places. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

rabbi dust


Lessons under the Fig Tree | John 1.47-49

Gospel of John headerTHURSDAY
Reflection 19 of 240

REFLECT
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:47-49 | ESV

Nathanael goes with Philip – but Jesus sees Nathanael first as he approaches him and he calls out (more fruit inspection!) “Hey everyone, look! Now here’s a real Israelite who is Jacob-free – no mind games or sleight of hand with this one!” Nathanael is immediately put on the defensive. “How do you know me?” he asks. Jesus bends towards him and says, “Before Philip called you – you know, when you were enjoying some solitude under that fig tree? Yeah, I was there. I saw you.” Nathanael knows that was impossible and he gushes, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God (aka God’s Man, Messiah)! You are the king of Israel!”  MAV

RECEIVE
Sometimes we call it “reading someone’s mail.” Privy to circumstances, events, thoughts, etc. that only you should know. This is what Jesus does to Nathanael. Once again, Jesus sees. Only this isn’t the word meaning to thoughtfully gaze upon or to study. This is the knowing that is intuitive, that runs deep and emanates from inner discernment. Perhaps we could call it a knowing look. But knowing looks are usually exchanged by people who, well, know each other, and that’s what’s throwing Nathanael for a loop. I’m guessing that this fig tree spot was a secluded place where Nathanael would go to be alone – and only his closest friends would know that; what the olive grove known as Gethsemane would later be for Jesus when he was in Jerusalem. And here a total stranger speaks of it with a knowing look and nod of the head like they were old friends. If we, unlike Nathanael, had more of Jacob’s cunning and guile, this all might seem a bit creepy. We’re talking stalker. But as Nathanael turns he’s not creeped out, he’s suddenly swept up in awe. It’s Jacob waking up at what he would name Bethel and suddenly realizing “God is in this place! And I didn’t know it.” He had scoffed at the proverbial unlikelihood of anything or anyone of importance coming from Nazareth – the Sticktown so obscure that we still hear debates today over whether it even existed. We build vaulted sanctuaries and elaborate altars and pray for God to come, but he consistently chooses to show up in the unexpected and unheralded spaces where discarded stones become holy altars upon which heaven descends…awe, but now I’m getting ahead of myself…

RELATE
Does the notion that God sees you empower or paralyze you? Does it fill you with faith or fear? Why?

RESPOND
Lord, when I feel most isolated, most alone, most forgotten today, gently remind me that you see. That you see me. And let me pass that sight on to others. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

rabbi dust


Making the Rounds | John 1.43-46

Gospel of John headerWEDNESDAY
Reflection 18 of 240

REFLECT
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”   John 1:43-46 | ESV

On the next day (day four, if you’re counting), Jesus decides it’s time to go out into Galilee (the “Rounds” – the ultimate rabbi disciple hunting grounds in that culture) and as he begins making his rounds, he finds Philip (“Horse lover”) Jesus has two simple words for him: “Follow me.” This “horse lover” was from a Galilean fishing village called Bethsaida (“Fishtown”) – home also to Andrew and Peter. And Philip doesn’t horse around – he goes right out and finds his friend Nathanael (“God’s gift”) and he pitches Jesus: “You know the One Moses wrote about in the Law – and all the prophets too! We’ve found him! He’s Jesus (“Salvation”) son of Joseph (“Adds up”) from Nazareth (“the Sticks”). Nathanael shot back, “Sticktown! I’m no stranger to those streets – what good can come from there?!” Philip repeats his rabbi’s frequent invite: “Come and see.”  MAV

RECEIVE
According to Ray Vander Laan, scholar and tour guide to the Holy Land, Galilee (“The Rounds” “The Circuit”) was where the concept of the rabbi/disciple relationship was born. If the South in this country is the Bible Belt, Galilee was the Disciple Belt. Many things seemed to be making the rounds in Galilee – everything from outlaw gangs to political insurgents to religious enthusiasts. And Jesus jumped right into the flow of it all. In contrast to the other Gospel accounts where the focus is on Jesus’ Galilean circuit (circus! you know it felt like one), John’s Gospel will actually be focusing primarily on Jesus’ activity in the south in Jerusalem and Judea. But John starts off with them, showing Jesus headed off to make his rounds in Galilee that would ultimately involve a circle, more a triangle, really, of three towns: Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin; two on the lake, one inland. No, Jesus didn’t really make an epic journey, a great pilgrimage. He essentially walked in circles, with Capernaum with a frequent rest stop. If you think about it, walking in circles is pretty much what we all do – home to work, to home, to work, to home, to work, etc. The question is, what do we see and do as we traverse that circle again today. And then again tomorrow. As Peter summed it up years later this is what Jesus did in his many circuits: “Jesus of Nazareth, anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” This was his life in the rounds of Galilee – and he invites us to share it in the midst of our own rounds wherever we are. It’s a circuit in which we both find and are found. John and Andrew find Jesus – and find out where he’s staying; Andrew finds Peter; Jesus finds horse-loving Philip; Philip finds Nathanael who finds that he has already been found. The question is, what are we finding as we make our rounds today – and are our eyes open so we can see it?

RELATE
So, just what are you finding as you make the rounds of your life these days? How attuned do you feel to the opportunities opening up around you to see and know others?

RESPOND
Lord, help me to make the most of my “rounds” today. Anoint me with the Holy Spirit so I can see what do to, where to be, whom to bless, and anoint me with power to actually follow through with what I see. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

rabbi dust


It’s Personal | John 1.40-42

Gospel of John headerTUESDAY
Reflection 17 of 240

REFLECT
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). John 1:40-42 | ESV

Manly (“Andrew”) was one of the two who had heard John and had set out after Jesus; and this Manly/Andrew was the brother of Listen! (“Simon”). And the first thing this Andrew does is find his own brother Simon, and he says to Listen!, “Listen! Eureka! We have found him, the Messiah (Jewish way of saying “Christ” aka Chosen One aka Anointed-Promised-Leader-Sent-From-God-To-Rescue-His-People-One). And Simon was speechless. Andrew brought him to Jesus. And Jesus studied a wary Simon for a moment like a buyer inspecting fruit in a produce market. And then he made his pronouncement: “You are the Listener, Simon, son of John (“Grace”) but you will be called Kefa (which is the Aramaic way of saying “Rock” aka Greek “Petros” aka Peter). MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version)

RECEIVE
Jesus didn’t seek converts. He made friends. Huge difference. Back up to the exchange we witnessed yesterday. When he becomes aware that two men are following him from a distance, he stops and looks at them – and it’s no mere passing glance. It’s the kind of looking we do at a theater during a movie. We take it all in. He beheld them. Jesus sees people. And then he gave them the dignity of asking what they wanted. Isn’t it interesting that they didn’t want something from him, but him? “Where are you staying?” Culturally, this was a way of saying, “You are a Rabbi and we wish to be your students.” Following a rabbi in that culture (becoming his talmid aka disciple) wasn’t a Sunday morning commitment or even a M-W-F class commitment. It was committing to following him wherever he was going, learning him much more than learning things from him. Teachers in our culture tend to be more like fact holders and the students information receptacles. But following a rabbi was quite personal. And so Simon is brought to Jesus, and, as you can see in the illustrious MAV rendering, Jesus sees Simon the way airport security examines a piece of luggage. He sees him, sees into him, sees through him. And then he renames him – which may seem a bit startling to us, though with our penchant for nicknames, it probably shouldn’t. It’s just that nicknames are usually given after you’ve known someone for a while and had a chance to see their personality at work. But as John will soon observe, “Jesus knew what was in man.” He took the time to see. Jesus was remarkably up close and personal. He still is.

RELATE
How often do you really see people as opposed to glossing over their faces? What would you say is the greatest hindrance to really seeing others? How can we improve our vision?

RESPOND
Lord, burst the isolating, enclosed bubble I can so often wrap around myself so I can really see others – the person standing before me, driving in front of me. Help me to see. Deliver me from the impersonal ruts of our culture. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

rabbi dust


Hand-off | John 1:35-39

Gospel of John headerMONDAY
Reflection 16 of 240

REFLECT
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  John 1:35-39 | ESV

On the next day (day three, if you’re counting), John had taken his stand there, along with two of his devotees, when suddenly he spies him again – Jesus, walking right by. Staring at him he says to the two, “Look. It’s him. The lamb of God.” The two were paying attention, caught his drift, and set right out after Jesus. After trailing behind him for a bit, Jesus turned around and studied them closely as they trailed him and coyly inquires, “So what are you two after?” Taken by surprise, they replied nervously, “Rabbi (which, by the way, is simply the Jewish way of saying “Respected Teacher”), we just want to know where you’re staying.” Jesus smiles, says, “Come and you’ll find out” as he waves for them to join his company. So they walked along with him and found out exactly where he was staying, and they shared his lodging with him that day – which was a smart thing to do since by their reckoning it was already the tenth hour and the day was waning (we call this 4pm). MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version)

 RECEIVE
Richard Rohr observes, “Unfortunately, we have an entire generation of educators, bishops, and political leaders who grew up either without much structure, or with a worship of structure—and are building their personal towers of success, and therefore have little ability to elder the young or challenge the beginners onto maturity. They are still beginners themselves. This does not bode well for the future of any church or society.” So much of cultural leadership both sacred and secular is about building a following and business and not just retaining it, but multiplying it. It’s called success. Only an idiot sends his people away. But this is precisely what John does. John had an impact that registered in the pages of a Jewish historian like Josephus and that resulted in a persistent following that decades later could still be encountered on the distant shores of the Mediterranean. But he pointed away from himself. He gave them away. We’ll encounter this in a point blank statement just a ways ahead in the Gospel of John as jealous followers asked about this fledgling Jesus movement that appeared to be stealing John’s thunder in the desert – it was making them look bad before their religious opponents! “He must increase, and I must decrease.” That just won’t make it into most of our business books. It won’t make it into most of our books, period. It’s just not natural. It goes against the ego grain. Who wants to hand-off the ball when you could carry it across the goal line yourself? After a game winning touchdown, who gets hoisted up onto teammates’ shoulders? The ball carrier or the one who handed it off? Do we even know the number on his jersey? Do we keep stats on number of successful hand-offs or the number of personally scored touchdowns? Perhaps we do track successful hand offs. (I’m stepping out onto essentially unfamiliar turf here – me and sports – not so much.) I guess we do in baseball. It’s called RBI’s, right? And so in the field of the kingdom of God, the hand-off is the most crucial, pivotal maneuver – and it’s the one that will be celebrated. Jesus called John the greatest among those born of women – perhaps that’s partially because he was the best at doing the hand-off.

RELATE
What do you find hardest to “give away” when it comes to function and attention? What do you find easiest? Why?

RESPOND
Lord, chase from my heart the desire to build for myself, to magnify myself, to maximize my own success and achievement; teach me the gentle wisdom of the wild man in the desert; let me excel in the hand-off, in multiplying and magnifying the gifts, talents, and success of others. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

hand off


beginning of signs | John 2.11-12

Gospel of John headerFRIDAY
Reflection 15 of 240

REFLECT
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. John 2:11-12| ESV

And so it was, off-script and ahead of schedule, Jesus did his first miracle – the beginning of the teaching signs he would perform to draw people’s eyes to deeper truths. In nowhere Reedtown, of all places, in the swirling backwaters of Galilee. And though there were no press releases, paparazzi, or postings, Jesus for the first time showed what he was made of – that brimming inner beauty of grace and truth.

And if there was any hesitation before, his initial band of followers fully bought in now.

And after this, Jesus descended from the mountainous spine of Galilee, down to a little fishing village on the lake, Capernaum, “Nahum’s town,” “Rest-Stop.” Jesus’ mother along with the rest of his family were right there with him – and so was that small band of growing followers.

And there they stayed.

But only for a little while…    MAV

RECEIVE
One of the most arresting points of difference between John’s Gospel and what we call the “Synoptic Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is how seemingly “instantly” the disciples believe in Jesus. Nathanael not only believes, but calls Jesus the Son of God at their first meeting! In the other Gospels, that confession forms a pinnacle of their experience of Jesus over a year or more and serves as a key pivot in the Story. Here it seems to be right on the threshold leading in. We could see that as a discrepancy to resolve or a riddle to solve (back to the empty stone pots again!), but isn’t it really both? We see and receive insight. We have epiphanies of faith. But as we walk further, new vistas open up and now we see. A deeper awareness and realization forms that can be so breathtaking that we feel like we are seeing for the very first time. Nathanael was blown away, but he would see greater things. Three days later at a wedding in Cana from backwater Galilee from which “no good thing could come” it may not have been a literal stairway to heaven with angels of God ascending and descending, but he saw glory. He saw that inner beauty of the grace and truth that filled Jesus to the brim just like those stone pots even as he drank along with the rest that water that had been turned into wine. They all drank it. They all saw it. They all saw the beauty, the grace, the truth, the glory. At a wedding party in Galilee, of all places. In water turned into wine. And they believed. They bought in. All in. Again. More deeply. This is the ultimate point of each “teaching sign” of Jesus, each miracle. Each serves as a “sign pointing us to deeper truths.” The point in Cana was not merely to help a newlywed couple to save face and enable a small village to have a great party. It points them and us to a deeper truth: that the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us loves to show up in unexpected places where he will take what in hindsight is seen to be a minor crisis at best and turn it into a remarkable display of the grace that is bearing, sweeping all of us into eternal, divine realities (kingdom come!) that we can’t even imagine. And that is worth hanging around for.

RELATE
What have been some of the key “epiphanies” of faith you have experienced in your life – or are you still waiting for one?

RESPOND
Lord, help me not to miss the epiphany of faith, the revelation of hope, the consolation of love you have for me to see and embrace today. Help me not to be a “just” person – that’s “just” another wedding, that’s “just” Cana (can anything good happen there?), that’s “just” wine, those are “just” stone pots. Help me to look harder, see clearer, believer deeper. Today. Through Christ.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

water-into-wine