John 13:23

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side.-John 13:23

In the midst of Jesus’s discussion of betrayal and the confusion of the disciples, John wrote this short line.  Sit with these few words for a moment.

First, John wrote “One of the disciples, whom Jesus loved.”  Although that disciple is never named, commentators universally believe John was referring to himself.  Of all of the New Testament writers, John shines the brightest light on the love of God through Christ.  Love saturates his gospels, epistles, and Revelation. John’s primary identity is not disciple, apostle, or ambassador for Christ; it was “one whom Jesus loved.”  His identity was his belovedness.

Second, notice that John was reclining at Jesus’s side.  They were not sitting in chairs around a formal dining table like we might imagine.  They probably would have been lying next to a low table or sitting comfortably on the ground.  John was likely leaning against Jesus during this intimate gathering of friends. 

Prayer
Jesus, help us to know and remember our belovedness and understand that we are not merely numbers in your kingdom, that we are not disappointments to you.  Help us to know that you are pleased with us and to live out of the reality that intimacy. Amen.

John 13:17

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”-John 13:17

My best friend in college would often say, “I thought about it,” his typical response when pressed to share whether he had asked somebody on a date.  After telling me about a potential love interest, I would say, “You should ask her out.” Inevitably, his response would come: “I thought about it.”

As we have been discussing, Jesus came as Lord, but also teacher.  He did not come to merely download “Jesus 101” into their brains, he came to show them how to live.

In the past decade or two, the Internet has allowed a resurgent interest in theology with women and men reading Calvin, Spurgeon, and even Augustine. They fill their heads with quotes and strongly held convictions. I speak as an insider.  Yet too often, we amateur theologians fail to put into practice what we have learned. What happens when there are large heads on weak bodies? We topple over.  Jesus was essentially saying to those of us who want to follow him, “Okay great, you know my message, but do not just keep it in your head.  Live a life of love.”  Serve one another out of the abundance of your heart.

Prayer
Jesus, strengthen my hands, my feet, my back, and my heart for the battle you have called me to enter.  I am prone to archiving theological knowledge that goes nowhere. Make me one who lives out what I believe, in your Spirit. Amen.

Request for Readers

Last week, I finished the manuscript for my third book. Over a long weekend, I took a couple of passes through the book and I read the first 80 pages aloud to Heather (she seemed to like it though, admittedly, I am her husband). I would like to ask for a few volunteers to read through the manuscript and offer comments about the content of the book before I pass it along for copy editing. Let me offer some basics about the book and then let you know what I am hoping.

SYNOPSIS: Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus (working title) is a non-fiction book about Jesus’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room before going to the cross, recorded in chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel. This book began when I “mind-mapped” these five chapters, wanting to identify core themes in Jesus’s teaching. The book, which is just shy of 57,000 words, has two sections. The first section, which is roughly 75 pages, is composed of 7 chapters discussing some of the themes I see. Following the introduction, the chapters are titled: Trinitarian Relating, Belonging, Sacredness of the Ordinary, Servanthood, Obedience, Peace in Suffering, and Jesus’s Prayer.

The second section, about 120 pages, is a series of devotional thoughts, verse by verse, through the upper room discourse. In light of the two different sections, you will notice overlap, but I hope they are unique enough to be of benefit.

In light of that brief synopsis, I am hoping that a handful of people will be sufficiently intrigued to do a read through with an eye toward the content. It is certainly not academic, so I hope it is accessible. If you are familiar with the general flow of John 13-17, if the chapters sound interesting, or if you have a general interest in books about the Christian life and Trinitarian relating, all the better. I will probably limit the number of early readers because “too many cooks spoil the stew,” but if you are at all interested, please reach out. I will send out a Word document, so you can track changes and offer comments. If it is something that seems interesting, but you don’t have the time to spend with it, I would ask that you wait until the book comes out.

Regardless of whether you read it now or never, would you please pray for this book and for my nerves as I move forward?

“And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

– “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver

You are the beloved

In his essay, The Path of Living and Dying, Henri Nouwen asked “Who was Jesus?”

“There was that voice, that incredible voice: ‘You are my beloved son and on you my favor rests.’ That’s the voice at the Jordan River, where Jesus heard and believed that he was the beloved of God on whom God’s favor rests. It was as the beloved that Jesus lived his life even in front of the demon. The evil spirit said to him, “Prove that you are the beloved by changing the stones to bread and becoming relevant. Prove that you are the beloved by being spectacular and throwing yourself down from the Temple to be saved by God’s angels. You’ll be in the news and on TV so everyone can see how wonderful you are! Prove that you are the beloved by having power and influence so you can control the situation.’ But Jesus answered, ‘I don’t have to prove anything. I am the beloved because that’s the voice I heard at the Jordan River. I know that I am the beloved. I have heard the words, “You are my beloved. You are my beloved.”‘ Jesus believed the words and he knew who he was. He lived his whole life as the beloved of God. He was imbued with Love.”

Nouwen goes on to ask “Who are you?”

“This vision is not just about Jesus. It is also about you and me. Jesus came to share his identity with you and to tell you that you are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Just for a moment try to enter this enormous mystery, that you, like Jesus, are the beloved daughter or the beloved son of God. This is the truth.”

Glorious Belonging

November 1 PAD
Prompt: Write a glorious poem

I close my eyes
and descend into light
embraced by love
immersed in glory
surrounded by welcome.

Your voice is a flowing river
powerful, soothing.
“My glory is found in the belonging.
“I am so glad you are here.”

Wholeness or Harm?

Write 31 days, day 27
Writing Prompt: Whole

If you were to ask me what thoughts fill my head during the day’s mental pit stops, there would be just a few things I would mention. I think a lot about Jesus and I think a lot about the transcendentals–truth, goodness, and beauty. Wholeness is the other concept I give a lot of mental space. I also believe that these three topics are closely related. Jesus epitomizes truth, goodness, and beauty. Jesus is wholeness.

Yet when I look around at the world, I rarely see wholeness. I see brokenness.  I see division. I see hatred. I see dis-integration. I suspect you do too.  Just today, the news told us of another hate crime. This time, a gunman killed 10 people and wounded others at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh. Every time these attacks occur, we disintegrate further. But it’s not just these publicized attacks–it is every murder, every rape, every sexual assault, every physical assault, every action motivated by hate. Every hateful word, every time we use name calling during disagreement, we are contributing to this degradation.

It grieves me when I see my friends using name calling. I wish I could say that my Christian friends on social media rose above name calling and hateful invective, but from what I can tell, they don’t. In fact, some days it seems that those who profess Christ are more likely to engage in character attacks and name calling. Friends, it ought not be so. We are called to live lives of love…in everything (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Earlier I shared on Facebook:

Stand against hate in all its forms. Christians, we are called to testify to the truth and to do so lovingly. Every person…hear me…EVERY PERSON, bears the image of God. EVERY PERSON, regardless of creed, is to be loved, not hated. Yes, speak out against bombings of Jewish Synagogues, or black churches, or movie theaters, schools, and bars. But also speak out against the hateful words so often spoken against or about those who think differently.

Every day, we have an opportunity to use our words. Will we use them for wholeness or harm?

For reflection: What does your social media presence look like? How do you speak about those with whom you disagree? 

True Love’s Welcome

Write 31 Days, day 6
Today’s Prompt: Belong

Today, I wrote a brief reflection on the Trinity, inspired by the 15th century icon The Trinity by Andrei Rublev.

On a clear day, I saw them from a long way off. At first, I could barely make them out. From such a distance, I could not say whether there were three or one as they seemed to blend into one another. As I drew closer, they came into focus, the three seated around a small table. At first glance, I struggled to tell them apart; thankfully they each wore different robes.

Watching them kindled a longing I had never felt before. Intimacy flowed between them. There was no sense of posturing, no one-ups-man-ship. They genuinely delighted in being with one another. So often, with meetings of more than two, cliques begin to form. Two will buddy up tighter than the third. Not so here. They each reveled not only in the others, but even in the connection between the other two. I was seeing love embodied.

As I continued to gaze upon them from my safe distance, tears wet my cheeks. Never before had I witnessed something so beautiful. In that moment I beheld perfection. Oh, to be loved like that! To experience such divine intimacy. It touched upon every desire I had ever felt. Yet I remained outside, hidden.

I intended to sneak away quietly. To interrupt them would be to intrude upon perfection, and I was unwilling to disturb what they had with one another. As I raised up to leave, they looked my way. I expected irritation, but saw delight. I expected disappointment, but they exuded joy.

As one, they beckoned, “Come join us.”

“I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to intrude,” but every part of me resisted my own words.

“We’ve been waiting for you. There is already a place at the table,” they said invitingly.

“But as I have watched you, I have witnessed perfection. I fear that if I join in, I will diminish perfection.”

“Friend, nothing you have ever done, thought, or said can diminish us. Rather, our love will envelop you. You belong. You have always belonged. You were created for no other purpose than to be in fellowship with us.”

And, hoping against hope, I took my seat and felt true love’s welcome.

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