On June 1st, we wrapped up our study of The Gospel of John with a celebration dinner and screening of the complete movie.

For our celebration dinner, Helen ordered 4 different kinds of pizza and tempted us to drink flavored water; all the ladies brought in wonderful salads and desserts – a feast for the eyes, mouth, body and soul! I still can see the stunning greens of the salads and the fruit plate by Karyn with its sweet yellow naval oranges nestling yummy blackberries.  Donna has really spoiled me with her lovely presentations! My favorite dessert was Paula’s lemon cupcakes, the v. lemony, sugary, melt-in-your-mouth, one-is-not-enough-eat-two-or-more kind :). While eating dinner, we watched the 2-hr version of the movie and took a short break midway to listen to a short summary.  Helen gave wonderful gifts to the leadership team (Suzannne, Anne, Jennifer Y, Donna, Linda C., Christi) – inspirational journals with Scripture verses. I got a very striking hand-painted ceramic candlestand with Psalm 119: 105: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet. Helen is so thoughtful – she bookmarked my Psalms journal on this verse; she brought cards for all the ladies to write me Thank you notes. I love the notes – I’m -re-reading them now, one per day, so I can slowly but most surely and enjoyably savor them. My house too is filled with the fragrance of the sweet peas flowers (I still don’t know who gave this) and the flowers Karyn brought me. All the ladies got bookmarks I made (at Helen’s request and which Jennifer Y so graciously cut). Nancy C. donated her Scripture-To-Go DVDs and Helen gave them to all the ladies.  What a celebration – thank you, everybody!

I had originally wanted to stop the movie after Jesus teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles and highlight Jesus words in John 8: 32b: If you hold to my teaching , you are really my disciples. But God had other plans. We stopped the movie at end of John chapter 6. Jesus has said He is the Bread of Life and urged everybody to eat Him and drink His blood. Disciples grumble, “this is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”  We hear Simon Peter’s passionate declaration (a.k.a confession of faith), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Now we know and believe that you are the Holy One who’s come from God.” The section closes with Jesus saying, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a Devil” We too are chosen. Everything we have is a gift and we are blessed indeed because of the gift of faith God has given us in Jesus. For many of us this faith has come or seems easy; for some of us it is not so easy and we battle with doubts.  We must never forget that doubt and deception are the tools of the Devil. Faith itself is a theological virtue, the gift of God, as Rev. Kirk Winslow so eloquently preached in his sermon on The Theological Virtues. Its a paradoxical besides being a mysterious gift because we also have a choice: to believe in Jesus or not, accept or not accept the gift of faith and then, what do we do with our belief, our gift of faith. We must not get deceived and consider how we may be self-deceiving ourselves as we learned in James, self-deception. We are not orphaned either as God gives us plenty of support for our journey of discipleship (the Holy Spirit who dwells in every believer) and the community of the church (our local and the universal).

In our Monday night Bible study (MNBS) we clearly made the choice to spend time with God, study his Word and importantly, take some time to be quiet in order to hear His voice better, by stilling the busyness in our lives. MNBS has been our “lab of love” and during this time set aside for God, we’ve been refreshed by His Word, allowed the Spirit to pray for us when we couldn’t, learned to recognize His voice, be kind to one another, and  pray for each other. We’ve surrendered some of our desires – to be with family, to watch a game on TV, to catch up on work, get much-needed sleep – while pursuing the desire and discipline of Bible study. In short, we’ve been learning to love God by loving and serving each other while we abide in his Word. Let’s take some time this summer to consider how, in the next year, we can continue to focus on our spiritual realities and fulfill our desires and intentions to be more like Jesus. What is God calling you to next year in your journey as a disciple of Jesus?

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8: 26-27

A summary of my lecture on John 21 follows.

Reviewing John 20, we saw that Jesus first appeared to a woman. Then, we saw the intuitive belief of the “other disciple, who had reached the [empty] tomb first” (20:8). Finally, there was the unwillingness of Thomas to believe without seeing (20:25) and the christological climactic (20: 28) when he calls Jesus “My Lord and my God”.  Belief and unbelief are one of the contrasting themes we’ve seen throughout this Gospel. Many respond to Jesus’ signs with faith (Nathanael in 1: 50; many Jews in 10:38, 42; the disciples, Mary and Martha when he raises Lazarus from the dead in 11: 15, 40; and the disciples again in 14:11); many also refuse faith without signs (the Capernaum official  whose son Jesus heals remotely in 4: 48; and the crowd after the feeding of the five thousand in 6: 30).  In John 8:30-31 we learned that faith must mature into discipleship – if it is to prove adequate until the end; in 20: 21 the call to discipleship was made even more explicit when Jesus commissions the disciples just as the Father sent him. Chapter 21 reinforces our spiritual reality, the call to Christian discipleship. Douglas Connolly, whose study guide John, The Way to True Life we are using in our study, titles this chapter “A Walk With a Resurrected Man.”

John 21: 1-14 – The Fish Sign - Jesus again provides food for his people –  just as he did in Chapter 6 when he fed the five thousand with a few loaves of bread and fish (6:11), he now helps them catch an abundance of fish (but there’s fish already on the fire too, 21: 9 ) and has breakfast prepared for them (21: 12). This semi-sign has another meaning too following up another theme from John 15: 5: Without Jesus, we can do nothing. The disciples were not able to catch any fish that night until Jesus came early in the morning.

John 21: 15- 23 – Spiritual Food - This is the famous passage where Jesus asks Peter three times “do you love me?” According to Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2  (p. 1237): ” Clearly, Peter is an undershepherd, but he is to reflect Jesus’ concern for his sheep more than a hireling would (10: 12-13). The point of the passage has nothing to do with a supposed difference between two Greek terms for love here but everything to do with the way love for Jesus is expressed in this Gospel: obeying him (14: 15, 21), in this case by caring for his flock the way he does, which implies self-sacrifice and potentially death (10: 11, 15; 21: 18-19).” Jesus, by foretelling Peter’s future, is also comforting him; Jesus is in control.  Given Jesus’ call in 20: 21, loving Jesus requires Jesus’ servants to love Jesus’ followers. We can’t love Jesus’ followers unless we abide in Jesus (8: 30-31).

John 21: 20-23 – Eyes on Christ: Peter’s question about the future of the beloved disciple and Jesus’ rebuke is a message to us: we must keep our eyes on Christ and not become divided by loyalties to church leaders.  Peter and the beloved disciple have different vocations; so do we. Just as neither is to question why their vocations should be different, neither should we. We should keep our eyes on Christ and follow him in obedience, each to her own call, but loving, encouraging, and looking out for each other.

John 21: 24-25 – Purpose of John – John has included only a selection of all that Jesus did and said and the purpose for which he did this is to “summon his audience to deeper faith.”

What does all this mean for us who believe in Jesus, give our allegiance to him, and want to be like him? How do we follow Christ, imitate him, become his disciple, a servant and friend of God? Keeping Jesus commandment to love one another, R.V.G. Tasker provides an answer “Christian love must express itself in service even for the rest of Christ’s brethren, but without love for Christ that service can never be rendered.”

Reflect on Douglas Connolly’s Now or Later questions:

1) As you have studied John’s Gospel, what aspects of Jesus’ character or ministry have impressed you most?

(one answer: Jesus’ obedience not just through his 3 years recorded in the Gospels but the 30 years before that when he lived in obscurity and poverty; and his close communion with God the Father)

2) What responses have you made in your heart and life as a result of that deeper understanding?

John 20 is about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and three of his many, many resurrection appearances. Paul writes about Jesus’ resurrection appearances in I Corinthians 15: 1-8. Here in John we learn about his (Jesus) very first appearance to Mary of Magdala and subsequent  appearances to the frightened disciples hiding in Jerusalem, and again to all the disciples and Thomas, who missed him the first time and refuses to believe the other disciples.

Mary is unable to leave the empty tomb and stays on grieving. Jesus reveals himself first to her. Mary calls him “Rabboni” and clings to him; she not only needs the evidence of sight but she “clings” to him.  Jesus encourages her to go and give the disciples his message.

John’s faith comes intuitively; he sees the linen cloths in the empty tomb and instantly he understands and believes – Jesus is risen. He is God. This is full, Christian faith.

The disciples, including Peter who ran to the tomb and entered it first, see Jesus when he comes to them gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They are amazed.

Thomas is the pragmatic realist;  he needs the evidence of sight! Since he wasn’t there when the other disciples saw Jesus he wants to feel Jesus wounds before he will believe that Jesus is risen. Jesus does not chastise or rebuke Thomas. Instead, he invites Thomas to feel his wounds. Thomas no longer needs to touch it seems. He kneels and acknowledges Jesus as “My Lord and my God.”

Which disciple do you think you’d have been like if you’d been there?

In response to Thomas’ worship Jesus says what has been called the greatest blessing of all: Blessed are those who believe without seeing.

Self-death was briefly discussed too, especially how is it similar or different from things like random acts of kindness, service, and self-sacrifice.  I need to find a good definition for this word – self-death =  dying to self and living in Christ = absolute surrender to God, doesn’t seem to be clear enough.

In John 18: 1-27, we have an account of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrayal, and Peter’s denial.

We see Jesus, unarmed, betrayed, with no friend by his side, and apparently helpless. But we also see Jesus is in total control. This is his “hour.”  When struck unjustly in front of Caiaphas he speaks his truth quietly and then, in the face of more unjust accusations, he just becomes silent.  Oh, if only we could learn from the silence of Jesus.  So often we speak merely to justify ourselves (we try to control how we appear to others through this) and so many times this is so unnecessary! Why do we do this?

On another thought: What would we have done in Peter’s shoes? Peter, a poor fisherman, was probably very overwhelmed by all that had happened. Jesus arrested and allowing the arrest to happen, not allowing Peter to defend him with violence, and then taken to Caiaphas.  Peter is allowed into this house but he’s now afraid and wondering what is going to happen.  A combination of tiredness, confusion, and fear for his life, probably led him to deny Jesus three times. What are our fears of identifying with Christ? Can we even articulate them clearly –  all the situations and circumstances in our life when we are not able to identify with Christ?

Linda Clinard led the study this week on John chapter 17 (Connolly (22) Trial and Trust). She highlighted his prayer for the unity of Christ’s believers.

Here’s some notes:

Chapter 17 is part the final section of what’s called the Farewell Discourses. In this, the longest prayer we have from him, Jesus prays the prayer of self-consecration and pastoral care. He prays first for himself drawing attention to the Father, then prays for his disciples, and finally prays for all future disciples.

Jesus came

  • to do the Father’s will (we see that in 4: 34; 5: 30, 38; 6: 38, 39)
  • and the Father’s work (5: 36; 9: 4)
  • speak the Father’s word (3:34; 7: 16; 12: 49)
  • to bear witness to the Father (5: 36; 7: 28) and
  • to live in a close relationship with the Father (8: 16; 18: 29; 16: 32)

In the prayer for himself, we learn that self-surrender is key for our discipleship. We must surrender ourselves to God, just as Jesus surrendered himself to the Father. Believing, knowing and receiving Jesus means experiencing God. This is eternal life.

As he faces the cross, Jesus prays for the protection of the disciples that 1) they won’t be tempted into disobedience, 2) and just as the Trinity experiences eternal unity, so may believers. He asks the father to sanctify his disciples.

His prayer for the unity of disciples is very important because this is how the world will believe in Jesus/God. Believers will be brought together in the same spiritual life around the truth that saves – Jesus is Savior.

Biblical doctrines of election and sanctification are themes that occur in John 17.  Just like Jesus and the disciples were chosen (17:2) and set apart for holiness, so are we.  When believers are united, our faith grows, and we are able to surrender our individual wills to the larger group because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Now, in Spring, through our study of John, chapters 17 – 21, we’ll continue to see how Jesus draws attention to the Father and performs the last and most glorious sign. Jesus demonstrates for us what Christianity is really all about:  self-surrender, self-death, submission, obedience.  These are words that we, and our culture, don’t really like to hear and aren’t comfortable with at all – after all, we’re totally into “rights” and asserting especially ours, aren’t we? Here’s a review of what we’ve been learning so far:

One way we’ve been studying John is by looking at how it is all about “belief” – What do we believe? How do we believe? What brings us to belief(s)? What increases our ability to believe and conversely how are they negatively affected? We examined the different types of “faith” we see exhibited by different characters in John: signs-faith by the people who come to belief in Jesus because they see the signs – miracles – Jesus does. Then the signs lead them on to greater belief as in the case of disciples or those healed or they fall off. Here’s a small review of what we’ve learned so far about the Book of John.

  • Entry points for belief in Jesus  – belief is allegiance to Jesus – allegiance is following Jesus – what does it mean to know, believe, and receive Jesus? Means to experience Jesus in our gut, in our brains, in our lives, right now.
  • John is also a Book of Signs (the many signs that show Jesus is God) and a Book of Glory (about Jesus revealing his glory and the glory of his Father)
  • Sign #1 – Jn. 2: 1-11 – water into wine – bold faith –model for faith is Mary, Jesus’ mother
  • Sign #2 – Jn 4: 43-54 – remote healing – unorthodox faith – model for faith is the Royal official
  • Sign #3 – Jn. 5: 1-9 – disabled man walks – this lame man is a negative paradigm of discipleship, he is a model of signs-faith – initially believes but then falls away and does not persevere when Jesus invites faith 5:14-15 but rather betrays him to the Jews – prefiguring analogous acts of betrayal
  • Sign #4 – Jn. 6: 1-14 – feeding of 5000 – abiding faith – Philip and Andrew fail Jesus’ test as they focus on purely natural, materialistic terms; Jesus also summons the crowds and his disciples to a higher level of commitment and ultimately this alienates many. Abiding faith vs. sign faith is a critical motif in John’s soteriology – 6: 2 – it is not those who begin to follow Jesus but those who persevere who remain his disciples – 6: 60-70. Our models for abiding faith are the disciples who become the apostles.
  • Sign #5 – Jn. 9: 1-7 – Blind man sees – Christian faith – Jesus demonstrates he is the Light of the World by healing the blind man. The opening of eyes was a natural expression for receiving sight – cf. 2 Kings 6: 20; Isaiah 35: 5; 42:7 or for being able to see more clearly (Genesis 21: 19, Luke 24: 13).  It also applies to receiving spiritual vision – revelation from God.  This blind man contrasts positively with the Jewish leaders and elite as a man who is open to God – he is our model of faith – a positive paradigm of discipleship.
  • Sign #6 – Jn. 11: 1-45 – Lazarus raised to life – Bold faith – Martha; Salvific faith – Martha; Courageous faith – Thomas; Jesus is a model of obedience and surrender – demonstrates dying to live (self-death)  Self-death is when we put others first, before ourselves.

John Chapter 16:  16-33 – Connolly (20) Title:  Peace in a Time of Trouble – Lecture Title: Organic Faith

In Abiding Faith, we learned the metaphor of the vine – branches, fruit, vine – this is an image of an organic union and it goes beyond the idea of intimate fellowship even.  The Spirit abiding in the disciples would teach them (14: 16, 17), hence Jesus’ words would remain in them (15: 7). As they continued in this union, they would know Jesus better (15: 15; 16: 13-15) and hence begin to reflect the ‘fruit’ of his character (15: 8, 9). This is organic faith – trusting and resting in Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit – this is what gives peace and fills us with christian joy, love for God and our neighbors, and increases hope.

Lectio divina means divine reading, reading from the heart, to allow God’s Word to heal and transform us. It is one of the best ways to spend 15-20 minutes in daily devotional reading of the Bible. God’s Word is living and active and when we abide in it daily, we’re abiding in Jesus – imagine Jesus is saying the words to you. There are four steps: Read, Meditate, Pray, Contemplate (rest in God).

Prepare (choose your passage and let it be small – one or two verses rather than a whole chapter; withdraw to a quiet place; relax your posture and breathing; visualize a setting that calms you, invite the Holy Spirit; use a centering prayer to focus your thoughts on God, say the Trinity Prayer of Protection) – 3–5 minutes.

Step 1, Read: Read passage aloud – 1-2 minutes. As you read, listen for word or phrase that touches you – 1-2 minutes.

Step 2, Meditate: how is my life is touched by this word; what are the connections between this word and my life – 3 – 5 minutes.

Step 3, Pray: Offer these thoughts to God. Respond to God. Ask: Am I being invited to respond? Am I being encouraged to do something? – 2 – 3 minutes

Step 4, Contemplate: Sit in silence. “Be still”; “Rest” in God – 3 – 5 minutes.

Every time the mind starts wandering, read the passage and start the process anew. Close in prayer by offering thanks and praise to God – 2 – 3 minutes.

Close with the Our Father prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.

Hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower

Activity for Week 1 – Meditation and Contemplation of the “I AM” statements of Jesus

Spend 15 minutes each day reading, praying, meditating, and contemplating on the I AM statement and question for the DAY.  Several times during the day too, offer the statement to God and whenever you get a chance think about it. The statements are easily memorized.

DAY 1:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6: 35

Is Jesus the Bread of my life?

DAY 2:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8: 12

Do I live by his Light?

DAY 3:

“I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” John 10: 7, 9

Do I enter through him as the Gate to salvation, or do I keep trying to rescue myself?

DAY 4:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10: 11 ; “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” John 10: 14

Do I trust him to Shepherd me?

DAY 5:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11: 25-26

Do I depend on his Resurrection or do I keep trying to lift myself up?

DAY 6:

“I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14: 6

Do I let him be the Way for me or do I keep asking for directions? Is he the Truth by which I judge all other lesser truths? Is he my Life or do I engage in career, entertainments, and posessions to give me life?

DAY 7:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15: 5

Do I abide in him, cling to him as a branch to a Vine, and draw all my spiritual nourishment from him?

Source: The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, NRSV.

Hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower

Hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower

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

During Spring break and during this season of Lent, let us take some time to reflect on the state of each of our own relationship with God and find out: Am I a friend of God? Is my life free from compromise with this world?

In the Gospel of John we’ve been identifying the various entry points for belief in Jesus to non believers as well as mature ones. Belief is allegiance to Lord Jesus. Allegiance includes following Jesus. John advises us to know, believe, and receive Jesus – meaning experience Jesus. If you follow the schedule below you should be able to better understand how you are or are not experiencing Jesus daily. The Examen (Week 2) is a prayer tool, which takes a few minutes each day.  Please lift to God the areas of life that are life-draining, compromised or broken and in need of his healing grace.

Schedule for Week 1:  Tuesday March 24 – Sat. March 28

Meditation of the I AM statements (posted as Part 2)

Schedule for Week 2:  Sunday March 29 – Sat. April 4

Daily Prayer of Examen – use the Sleeping with Bread By Linn and Linn handout

Schedule for Week 3: Sunday April 5 – Sat. April 11 – Holy Week

Attend Holy Week Communion at IPC (morning or evening).

Schedule for Week 4; Sunday April 12 (Easter) – Sat. April 18

Daily Prayer of Examen – use the Sleeping with Bread By Linn and Linn handout

On one day this week do the Life as a Garden visualization

On another day please jot down, in two columns, the Books in the Bible that you like to read often and books that you rarely find yourself reading

Week 5: Sunday, April 19 – Worship, Rest

Monday, April 20 – Return to Monday Night Bible study for John 17 – Jesus prays for us

Sources: The Bible & 2008/2009 Monday Night Bible Study booklet (the one with the hummingbird on the cover) – Please read pages 1 – 6 (Introduction to Women’s Monday Night Bible Study: Covenant Groups in Celebration, Gratitude, and Discipleship)

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