John 15: Around This Table

reclining last supperJesus and His apostles are reclining around a common table. This is the last time they’ll share a meal like this, and Jesus knows it. He knows that Judas is going to sell him out. In fact, at the moment I’m thinking of, Judas has already left to do that.

Jesus knows what’s coming for Him later tonight. When He looks around the table, He knows what’s coming for His friends, too. He knows what they’re going to suffer for His sake in the next few hours, in the next few days, in all their years to come. Knowing all that, what will He say to them in the little time that’s left around this table?

In professional sports, team nutricionists carefully calculate the specific nutrients that will give each individual athlete his or her maximum strength and endurance for the upcoming game. They take into account the athlete’s current condition. Is she recovering from an injury? Is he exhausted? They also take into account the conditions expected for the game. Will the weather be especially cold? Especially hot? All of that goes into prescribing the exact food and drink that will give the athlete the best nutritional base possible for the physical challenges of game day.

I suspect Jesus has thought along those lines as He looks around this table. What are the most important things His friends need to know in order to face their coming challenge? What do they need to hear in this moment, and what can wait? Jesus knows. There’s no question that He knows. What does Peter need to understand right now in order to sustain him? Thomas? John?  This is their Creator and their Good Shepherd. He knows them in and out and loves them through and through. He knows exactly what spiritual food to serve them here and now. It will be exactly what they need to sustain them through the challenges to come. It will have all the spiritual nutrients that they need to keep fighting the good fight.

Furthermore, Jesus knows that He’s not just talking to those present at this moment, but to every one who will gather around His table in the centuries to come. He knows He’s not just talking to His apostles. He knows He’s talking to us today, too. He knows how many generations of His lambs will sustain their life in Him with what He is about to say around this table. And I sincerely believe He knows something more. He knows not just how many lambs will feed on these words, but who. I mean He sat at that table and looked down the corridors of time and saw exactly who would dine with Him in their time, and knew each of His future followers by name, all the way down to you reading John 15 at breakfast this morning.

So Jesus looks around this table. What do all of us most need to hear from Him right now? Right now, as His hour approaches? He knows. So it’s out of His deep love and infinite understanding that He speaks:

“I am the vine, you are the branches….”

The Invitation Stands

John 15: 15–“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

The Lord has brought up the theme of friendship with Him at two turning points in my life. The first time was when my grandmother died in 1976. The second time was in Belgium last year. I was still reeling from the cancer diagnosis and from whirlwind surgery when the worship leaders at the Antwerp Vineyard decided to sing John Mark McMillan’s “Future/Past” every Sunday for a month.

Every Sunday for a month, which is to say, I couldn’t get away from it, even though I wanted to. I really couldn’t tell you why I wanted to get away from it, only that I felt so overwhelmed, like please don’t ask me to one more thing. Didn’t matter how I felt. They just kept on singing the song. The pre-chorus goes like this:
“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in this fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend.”

Jesus chased me for a month with this: “In the midst of everything that’s happening to you, be My friend.” I finally went so far as to at least start thinking about it. Ok. What would it mean to be His friend? I started thinking about how often Jesus encourages those listening to Him to talk to Him:
“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7: 7).
“Pray in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…’” (Matthew 6: 9).
“If you ask the Father for anything in My name He will give it to you…(John 16: 23).
And I thought about how Peter and Paul echo that:
“Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you…” (1 Peter 5:7).
“Be anxious for nothing, but…let your requests be made known…” (Philippians 4:6)

Clearly, talking to Him was one of the keys to being His friend. Pretty obvious. Friends are people we confide in. We don’t keep anything important from them because we trust them. We tell them everything. It struck me that during the last supper Jesus told the twelve that He had done that with them. He had told them everything. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” He said. He had told them everything, like friends do.

That phrase started sticking in my mind: “Tell Him everything.” I went to my go-to guide to prayer, Richard J. Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, and read the first chapter, called “Simple Prayer.” Here’s Foster’s definition of simple prayer:

In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health. In a very real sense we are the focus of Simple Prayer. Our needs, our wants, our concerns dominate our prayer experience…. Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. (Foster, Richard J., 2009-10-13. Prayer – 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart’s True Home, pp. 9-10. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

The Holy Spirit kept insisting, and somewhere in the middle of chemo, I finally broke down and put Foster’s advice into practice. I started sitting down, Kleenex and a notebook at hand, and started pouring my heart out to my Father. It didn’t matter if I was often barely coherent. (Incoherence is to no barrier to God’s understanding. There aren’t any barriers at all for Him, actually.) And the wonderful news is that it worked. Telling Him everything does result in friendship, because He responds. Because it leads to dialog. Dialog with God.

It’s still the hardest thing in the entire world for me to do on any given day, because it’s the key, and all kinds of enemies, including my own pride, don’t want me to turn that key. Nevertheless, I do. And on any given day, telling the Father everything is also the most wonderful, most blessed, most fruitful activity in the whole world. “Pour out your heart before Him,” David says (Psalm 62). It leads to friendship.

“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in the fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend”

Obediencia “Heuristico”–Español (English below)

El mensaje de ayer de Adam Russell, el pastor del Vineyard Campbellsville, fue un mensaje “heuristico.” Fue el tipo de mensage que hace que un serie de focos se prende en el cerebro para traer luz a la mente.

“Heuristico” es una palabra que aprendí en mis estudios posgraduados. El diccionario lo define así: “Técnica de la averiguación y del descubrimiento.” Por lo común escuche esta palabra en referencia a los articulos o libros que lo más inspiraron commentarios extendidos y generaron nuevas ideas y nuevas direcciones.

Eso es lo que el sermón de Adam hizo para mí ayer. Fue heuristico, especialmente su perspicacia sobre la obediencia. Adam citó el dicho de Jesús: “Si guardas mis mandamientos permanezcarás en mi amor.” Este dicho es algo dificíl para nosotros, dijo Adam. ¿Que tiene que ver obedencia con amor? La respuesta de Adam fue lo que hizo que los focos de mi mente se prendieron. Obediencia es la puerta de entrada para acercarse a Dios, dijo Adam. Es la puerta de entrada lo cual nos lleva al amor del Padre.

Adam utilizó el ejemplo del hijo prodigo. Mientras que moraba el hijo en el cochinero ¿estaba experimentando el amor de su padre? ¿Lo sintió allá? Claro que no. El hijo tenía que regresar a la casa de su padre y allá encontró su amor de nuevo. Regresar significa arrepentirse en esta parabola y arrepentirse significa obedecer a Dios. ¿Porque? Porque regresar a Dios Padre es la voluntad de Dios Padre para todos sus hijos que se alejan. Regresar es obedecer.

Este acto de obediencia del hijo prodigo fue la puerta de entrada a experimentar el amor de su padre otra vez. Eso no es decir que el padre no le amó a su hijo mientras él moraba en el cochinero. Por cierto le amó. Es que el hijo no podía experimentar este amor ni podía sentirlo ni permanecer en este amor hasta que volvió a la presencia de su padre.

Cuando yo escuché este ayer entendí algo nuevo de un tema en que he estado pensando mucho recién. Esto es el tema de someterse. Someterse a Dios es lo que nigún ser humano ha querido hacer desde los tiempos del huerto de Edén hasta hoy. Queremos ser Dios no someterse a Dios. De todas maneras someterse es un requisito absoluto para toda creatura que quiere experimentar communión con su Creadór. Personalmente yo he tenido que rendirme y volver a Dios muchas veces. He visto que cuando me someto así siempre encuentro los brazos abiertos del Padre. Siempre me abraza y me perdona y me restaura exactamente como Jesús nos prometió. Los brazos amantes del Padre siempre esperan a todos que regresan a Él.

Gracias a Dios por su misericordia y gracia y amor. Gracias a Dios que nos espera con sus brazos extendidos, no para agarrar y castigar sino para abrazar y consolar y restorar. Wow! No hay nadie como Tu! Te alabo Padre. Eres tan bueno!

Gracias, Adam.

PD: Les invito a todos mis amigos Castellano hablantes. Por favor indícame los errores que he hecho en cualquier “post” que pongo en mi blog. Quiero mejorar en mi escribir. Muchisimas gracias.

Heuristic Obedience

Adam Russell’s message yesterday at the Campbellsville Vineyard was heuristic. It was one of those that make a series of light bulbs light up one after another in your head. Click! Click! Click!

“Heuristic” is a word I learned in graduate school. Webster’s definition is “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving.” It’s a word I most often heard used to describe articles or books that inspired extended discussions, that generated new ideas and new directions.

That’s what Adam’s preaching did for me yesterday. It was heuristic. Especially the insight about obedience. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” Jesus said. Tough to swallow, Adam said.  What does obedience have to do with love? His answer is one that set off a lot of light bulbs for me. It’s a gateway. It’s the door leading into the Father’s love.

Adam used the example of the prodigal son. Did he know, experience his father’s love when he was languishing in the pig pen? No. He had to go back to his father’s house, and that’s where he found it. To go back means to repent. To repent is to obey God. The prodigal’s obedience was the gateway to experiencing his father’s love again. Not that his father didn’t love him while he was in the pig pen. Of course he did. But the boy was cut off from feeling it, knowing it, abiding in it, until he obeyed his dad and went back home.

The lightbulb that went off for me was this: obedience is submission. It’s what human beings haven’t wanted to so since Eden and still don’t, but it’s an absolute requirement for creatures who want to fellowship with their Creator. And as I know from giving up and going back time after time (He’s not counting, but I am), submission is walking into the Father’s waiting arms. His loving, waiting arms. It’s something I need to do every day.

Praise God for His mercy and grace and love. For waiting with His arms extended, not to grab and punish, but to embrace and comfort and restore. Wow! There is none like You! Praise God.

Thank you, Adam.