What the Gospel of John Did for Me

 

(This post is an explanation for the next post, especially its title, and a guide on how best to read it.)

I came to Christ as an agnostic.
An agnostic is not an atheist:

ag nos tic 1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown, and prob. unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god 2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something.

a the ist one who believes there is no deity

a the ism a : a disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity*

I had been taught not to be gullible. This translated into my life as rather pervasive skepticism.

Yet I loved the possibility of truth, and longed for it. I think I might even have prayed for it, to the God who might be there…?

My pivotal “salvation prayer” was hardly the usual one. Instead it cried out, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief!”

Long story, but God did answer. Yet not in the way you (or I) might have expected, or wanted. Not by performing some miracle for me, like a stage magician—but by letting my life’s rug get pulled out from under me, and then, when I lay sprawled, utterly helpless to get myself to my feet again, by answering my desperate prayers in phenomenal ways that I think many people would label miraculous.

John’s Gospel in itself didn’t save me. But it made new truth resonate in my soul, a “new song,” and ignited the fire of scripture love in my heart. And I think, strange as this might sound, my agnosticism helped feed and intensify this fire. For my agnosticism wasn’t a surly, unbending one but a hungering, seeking one, born in part from my awe at the mystery of things—things like the very existence of life.

In that spirit I read “John”—the Bible segment someone recommended as a good place for a “new believer” to start—in the spirit of a little child who doesn’t know, and doesn’t know if she can know, but really hungers to find out.

That’s the spirit we should all try to have, and keep, as we read “The Word.” And John is an excellent book on which to practice this attitude. It’s simple, yet deep. It’s vocabulary is limited, which is part of its strength. If you pay attention to the words that repeat often it can open your eyes and heart wide. And, even for seasoned Christians, it is the kind of book that can reduce you to the inquisitiveness of the little child, because it holds so much mystery.

Much is simple, but much is not all that clear. Like Jesus’ cryptic parables, it leaves room for lots of questions, for wondering. And if you “accepted Christ” as a little child, you may have been taken on a short-cut away from all those impossible-to-answer questions children can come up with in astonishing, overwhelming number. But those kinds of questions are born of realizing how little we know, and that humility makes us available to the awe that God evokes when He opens up meanings in ways we never saw all those years.

That’s what the essay in the next post aims to stir up in whoever reads it. And that’s why I say in the next post, “Read it like a little child,” and in the parenthesis after its title, “Read it like an agnostic,” like one who doesn’t know, and knows they don’t know, and needs Someone to show them…

As for how otherwise to read the next post, and the scripture it addresses, I recommend 1) in stillness, 2) alone with God, 3) slowly and meditatively, 4) after asking God to “open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth you have for me…” and everything else this hymn asks for!

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*Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition.

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Pilgrimage, in Circles?

I couldn’t resist digging up this old blog from several years ago to repost, because it meshes so much with the way our meandering has moved…

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We think of our spiritual progress as a straight line.

Not so.

Circles.

For me anyway.

Yes, I know, our moral walk should turn neither left nor right off God’s way, but I’m thinking of another facet of Christian life: our growth…

I was in an emotional pit, trying—still, even at my age—to get my bearings, God’s direction. It seemed all I ever did was go around in circles, like some poor ignoramus lost in the woods.

I took the issue to God, wrestled with it, with my thinking, so stuck in its negative groove.

“Stuck in a groove” pictures a record with a crack or scratch making it repeat the same sequence, over and over, as it goes ‘round and ’round. However, a phonograph needle ordinarily makes continual forward progress through a song by going around and around. I failed to consider that, stuck as I was.

I drew a ragged spiral, representing my walk—and sighed.

But then, a word, an image came into my mind,

Helix.

A helix goes continually around—but simultaneously progresses upwards.

With that insight, I cut on the lines I’d drawn, lifted their center point upward…

and suddenly I saw my path toward God! Like a vine wrapping a pole or tree—or cross—around and around, reaching, growing, ever upward, toward the light.

And I wondered, was Jacob’s ladder a helix, a spiral staircase? Could be. I was now assured my ladder was, anyhow.

I recalled a former pastor’s frequent urging us “Higher up and further in” to God’s Kingdom. I was now seeing the helix of his principle.

Yes! Constantly moving higher up the spiral ladder, ever further into Kingdom life,

That is my Christian pilgrimage!

After all, which does God care about more: My choice of straight line paths between earthly points (as, job or geographical move A to B, A to C, A to D…) or whether I move steadily upward, nearer Him and His kingdom?

The mountain of the Lord is very steep. A cliff? The only way to its summit (for a shaky climber like me) is a path that clings to the mountainside as it continually rises, around and around, ever aimed toward the apex in God.

Paul pursued this ever-onward and upward path with a passion. “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phl 3:14)—the aim toward which he told the Colossians to focus: above, where our lives “are now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3).

I don’t feel so bad now about going around in circles in morally neutral decision making, as long as I’m aiming right up toward God Himself, spiraling ever higher “to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me,” and not spiraling into self by the ever-moving introspection that swirls down and down into darkness—or lies flat dead, without dimension, life, aspiration.

So… onward and upward, around and around, heavenward, toward God, clinging to the Christ and His cross.

*****

For a set of links to all the other posts in the “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated as new posts appear in the blog content.

 

Meandering Full-Circle, Beautifully

I haven’t forgotten our “28 Days of Meandering Forward” still lacks eight of its “days.” This post represents one of them.

A beautiful thing has happened for me. The meandering we did through the twenty posts so far, along with a few little sideline things that have happened in my life, have brought me round to a special reunion with my early Christian self.

I’ll let my “Journaling Through John” Journal’s first entry explain:

I have come full circle.

My first Bible pursuit as a new Christian was the gospel of John. My first Bible journaling was on the gospel of John. My first sit-up-alert, flashing biblical insight, because of just a cross-reference, was in the first chapter of John.

I fell head over heels with scripture reading the gospel of John. And here, just as I come to the end of a month dedicated to “meandering forward,” hoping to find myself on God’s path, I am invited to begin (again) a deep reading and journaling of the gospel of John.

I can, and will, write the first several verses here from memory. I know much else in this book by heart and have plumbed the depth of some of its quizzical quotes and come up with shining pearls. So why do I want to read and study and ponder and meditate and journal yet again, on the same gospel of John?

Because of its depth. In its seeming simplicity is such profundity that I believe anyone who knows and loves the Lord of this gospel could study it a hundred times and still come up with new pearls, and experience new epiphanies and spiritual chill bumps on the hundred-and-first time through.

And so I begin simply by writing out what I know at its beginning by heart—because there’s something strongly heart-connecting in just pouring the familiar words out onto the page through the ink outlet of my pen, held in my hand, connected to my arm and leading to my heart. As I feel the gliding of my pen across the paper, my soul resonates as I write,

In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

Can you wrap your head around that? How about your heart, your soul?

Sit with it totally unencumbered by the media and the to-do list for just a few quiet minutes and let it ring, and see what it does in the core of your being.

Then read on for more mystery, and dive deep for another pearl:

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through Him,

and without Him nothing was made that was made.

In Him was life,

and the life was the light of men…”

 

Letting all this sink (again) into my soul…

 

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For a set of links to all the other posts in the “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.

 

A New Tack for Lent

Today is the start of Lent for many observers, and I plan at least to pay attention to the tradition. I plan also to be considering it a time to add rather than subtract—to gain rather than “give up” things.

This was last year’s perspective.
This year’s is more in this vein.

Of course, as the productivity video we watched said, “Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another”—or to many others. I  want to use this principle in this reverse, positive, way:

I want to say, “Yes!” to two important things to pursue—the pursuit of which will almost surely crowd out some non-essentials that waste my time.

One is healing. Last month I finally got around to deciding on my “One Word” focus for 2019. I chose “Heal.”

I need healing. Do you? I don’t just mean from the flu, or back trouble, or a broken leg. You can’t live very long in this world without accumulating a lot of wounds, disablements, and maladies that need healing in a number of areas: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual. I’ve become painfully aware of some that may have been hanging around undetected for some time. I want to deal with them in the company of God.

My other objective is a new and different enjoyment of the gospel of John. I expect this to interweave with my “healing” goals. How so?

In my last study of the book, I saw a theme that repeats throughout: Jesus and_____. The blank stands for people He interacted with. This gospel is full of them: Particular groups of them, like the Pharisees or the Samaritans, and individuals, often from those groups. Once I got past the first (amazingly beautiful) chapter (which I think I could hang out in for a hundred years), I began to see a repeating pattern of Jesus interacting with groups in one way, and one-to-one with members of those groups in another. As I recall, the one-to-one interactions held the greater riches, the deeper realms of truth, and reached to the particular person’s greatest needs. I am curious as to how much his words, in either case, related to some kind of healing. I suspect a lot!

If you want to follow along on this particular path, and would like a simple chart you can fill in with your own observations and keep for your own reference throughout, let me know in the comments and I’ll email you the document. However, you may want to take an entirely different tack. Take a look at Dawn Paoletta’s great suggestions in her own start-of-Lent and Journal-through-John blog post.

And whether you formally observe Lent or not, may this season reveal beautiful truths from and about Christ, and bring you whatever healing you need most.

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Jesus’ Advice about Success and Goals (Part Two)

I’ve been quiet, and I’ve been reading, and I’ve been thinking, and now I find I must correct my last statement on Monday’s blog post.

I claimed that Jesus [speaking to His disciples, or disciples-to-be]“set forth clear goals to work toward.”

This was incorrect!

He didn’t really set up a bunch of goals to aim at. What He presented instead was one new  aim, a whole different mindset, to replace all distracting goals and  aims.

This is what we need—to gain, or renew. Some of us may have had that aim, that mindset, somewhere in the past, but got it hijacked! Something, or someone, robbed our attention from it!

Just like the people of Christ’s earth time, we need to aim our focus in a better direction—and keep it there!

The world and life in it can get terribly distracting. This was true even long before telegraph, telephone, and television, let alone everything wifi and cyber.

When Jesus came along and began to preach, he started with a word John the baptizer had called out before Him, and that word essentially means, “reset your focus, understanding, and direction.”

That word, hated much by many because they don’t see the golden principle and reward in doing it, is “repent.”

As I now read through various passages the last post referred to, I see in every case, Jesus’ aim was to correct his hearers’ aim. Something distracting had commandeered their attention and pulled it off course onto convoluting paths, and He was telling them how to point themselves  in the one right direction:

  • The rich young ruler really wanted to do right in God’s eyes, but his possessions had gotten a tight, hindering hold on his attention. (Jesus gave him the instruction he needed to get released from their grip.)
  • The fishermen He approached were struggling to provide for their families, and getting frustrated. (Jesus showed them in living color how God could supply all their need and more, so they could let go of the nets that in turn had a hold on them, and follow him in new freedom and faith.)
  • Matthew’s attention was focused on the coins he had to count at the tax table which essentially held him captive. (Jesus gave him the same kind of freedom call as the fishermen.)
  • Later, Jesus expounded to many on the same principle as above, and gave his disciples a practical experience of radically trusting God and being supplied.
  • Next we see Him loosening the grip of people’s perceived “need” for human approval and belief in other humans as the source of their essential needs, not only physically, but emotionally and socially.

Yes, we need people, and food and shelter, but we need even more to aim our attention and our lives toward the One Who created and maintains all those things and has power to supply all those needs and more.

In this vein Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God. This, he said, is the singular goal we need to seek, first and foremost.

What He meant by that is a huge enough subject to fill a heavy tome and still not reveal all He implied. But He did present lots of  parables about that Kingdom, and how to live in it. What a good pursuit for the upcoming season of Lent! Or for any season. But especially right now at the end of this challenge series, what a good way to focus on the sure path Christ guides us on. Meandering? Maybe, but not straying or erring. Following the One Who will guide us right.

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The Parables are not going to be my Lenten pursuit this year, however. I will be doing this instead, during Lent and beyond through the month of June, and sharing here some of the insights, joys, and beauties I hopefully gain. In a future post (maybe tomorrow), I’ll be telling more about it, and inviting you to come along on the journey.

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For a set of links to all the other posts in this “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.