Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During periods of philosophical transition, old verities no longer work and the new ones have yet to be discovered. In the early stage of a transition, the focus remains on the past. The middle stage begins once the obsession with the past subsides, but the future still remains murky. This middle stage holds the most uncertainty, but it also offers the most potential for innovation; that is, until the final stage comes into focus. Because the church currently finds itself in this middle stage, statistically-based research adds great value to the conversation.

Introduction

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ new book, Good Faith, starts by posing this question:

“What does the future hold for people of faith when people perceive Christians as irrelevant and extreme?” (12)

The purpose of their book is “to make a case for good faith” (15) which they described as having “three essential ingredients”, which are: “how well you love, what you believe, and how you live” (72).  Kinnaman and Lyons explain these three ingredients in terms of loving God and loving others, remaining biblically orthodox, and living a lifestyle consistent with the two (72-74).

Irrelevant and Extreme

So why do people perceive faith to be irrelevant and extreme?

Irrelevant.

Kinnaman and Lyons see the perception of irrelevance as a combination of apathy and ignorance (21-22).

Apathy jumps out of some basic statistics. Three out of four Americans have some Christian background, but only two in five Christians actively practice their faith (27). The good news is that the share of Christians who practice their faith has remained relatively stable over the generations (224).The decline in the share of nominal Christians, however, normally dominates the headlines.

Role of the Church in Charity

With little or no social pressure to maintain ties to the church, many American remain ignorant of the role of the church in our culture. For example, many people do not realize that religious groups “make up the largest single share of national charitable giving” (30). When the Obama administration wanted to make progress on prison reform, hunger relief, combating sex-trafficking, and fighting poverty, they called on Christian-led organizations who did the most work in these areas (21). The Christian influence is not understood, in part, because people do not know that many American institutions, including school and universities, hospitals, labor unions, public libraries, voting rights for women and minorities, and endowments for the arts and sciences, began as Christian initiatives (33).

Halo Effect

If you still believe that faith does not matter, consider a secular study done by economists at the University of Pennsylvania which looked at the economic benefit (or “halo effect”) of a dozen houses of worship (ten Protestant churches, one Catholic, and one Jewish) in Philadelphia. The study estimated the economic benefit to be $50 million per year (238). Another study, sponsored by World Vision in 2014, found that people generally believed churches should be involved in public issues like child protection and human rights, but were less tolerant of church involvement in their own spiritual lives (239).

Extreme.

Christian faith appears extreme, not because it is dangerous, but because it is different (22). Pluralistic culture presumably preaches love and individualism, but endless corporate advertising homogenizes perceptions around consumerism and conformity, debasing real love and making a mockery of individual gifts, differences, and preferences.

Kinnaman and Lyons ask a pointed question: “Is it extremism when people live according to what they believe to be true about the world?” (40) Many Americans apparently would answer yes. Kinnaman and Lyons observe:

“While not majority opinions, millions of adults contend that behaviors such as donating money to religious causes, reading the Bible silently in public, and even attending church or volunteering are examples of religious extremism.” (41)

Conversation Difficult

Because many Americans believe that Christian faith is extremist, conversation across the faith divide has become more difficult. A majority of Americans, for example, find it is more difficult to speak with an evangelical (55%) than someone in the LGBT community (52%) (45).

In part 1 of this review, I have provided an overview of the author’s problem statement. In parts  2 and 3 I will look at their suggestions for how to deal with the problem.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

 

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Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God

Henry Nouwen. Reaching OutNouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God

Henri J. M. Nouwen. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A ministry friend once distinguished problems from polarities. He argued that problems, unlike polarities, have solutions while polarities can only be managed. For example,  an umbrella manages our response to rain, but does not solve the problem posed by rain;  having an umbrella simply makes rain more tolerable. Ministry would be more tolerable, my friend advised, if I learned to manage polarities rather than treating them as problems to be solved. Because unsolvable polarities are everywhere in life and ministry, I never forgot my friend’s advice.

Three Polarities

Three polarities lie at the heart of our spiritual life says Henri Nouwen. In his book, Reaching Out, he describes them as: an inner movement from loneliness to solitude, an outward movement from hostility to hospitality, and an upward movement from illusion to prayer (20). These movements each potentially involve progress—hence, the term, movement—but for Nouwen this progress is tentative and subject to lifelong tension (39). He writes: “the spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer.” (20) Tension suggests a struggle with polarity both in heart and mind.

Spirituality

This struggle with both head and mind components distinguishes writing in spirituality from theology where the logic of the mind is more narrowly the focus. Nouwen focuses immediately on the question—“What does it mean to live a life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ?”—and links this question to one Jesus himself poses: “Some say. . .others say. . .but what do you say?” (16-17) What we say is immediately pertinent. Nouwen sees spirituality discussions as intensely personal. In this setting or any other, “we have to face and explore directly our inner restlessness, our mixed feelings towards others, and our deep-seated suspicions about the absence of God.” (17). In these three movements, Nouwen is clearly inviting us into his spiritual struggles and the tone of the book is captured in its title.

Outline of Book

The title, Reaching Out, captures Nouwen’s sense of the three movements, around which he structures the book (17) into 9 chapters, preceded by a foreword and introduction, and followed by a conclusion and notes:

Foreword

Introduction

 REACHING OUT TO OUR INNERMOST SELF—The First Movement From Loneliness To Solitude

  1. A Suffocating Loneliness
  2. A Receptive Solitude
  3. A Creative Response

 REACH OUT TO OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS—The Second Movement From Hostility To Hospitality

  1. Creating Space for Strangers
  2. Forms of Hospitality
  3. Hospitality and the Host

 REACHING OUT TO OUR GOD—The Third Movement From Illusion To Prayer

  1. Prayer and Mortality
  2. The Prayer of the Heart
  3. Community and Prayer

 Conclusion

Notes (15)

Who is Nouwen?

In addition to being a prodigious author, Nouwen was a Catholic priest and longtime academic who went to live and work in the L’Arche-Daybreak Community[1] (of special needs individuals) in Toronto, Canada, laying down the academic life much like Jesus laid his clothes aside to wash the disciple’s feet (John 13:4-5).

Three Movements

Let me turn aside now to focus on the three movements.

Movement from Loneliness to Solitude

As an observant priest who suffered from same-sex attractions,[2] Nouwen felt loneliness deeply, describing it as: “one of the most universal sources of human suffering today.” (25) Even in his suffering, Nouwen goes on to write:

“The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” (34-35)

The key words here are a restful spirit (Sabbath), inward-reaching search (an attentive heart and mind), and play—play! Play usually distinguishes adults from children—a child of God must learn to play. For Nouwen, this play makes space in our life for others (40) because we are more rested, “alert and aware of the world around us” (50). Nouwen’s vision of solitude develops the inner resources that make hospitality to others possible (61-62).

Movement from Hostility to Hospitality

Much like solitude provides the inner space for admitting others, hospitality provides outward space for others. This is where “the stranger can enter and become a friend, instead of an enemy” (71). Nouwen (66-67) gives three biblical examples. These include Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers (Gen 18:1-15), the widow of Zarephath hospitality to Elijah in spite of her own poverty (1 Kgs 17:9-24), and the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who unknowingly offered hospitality to Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). In each case, Nouwen writes:

“When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them.” (67).

For Nouwen, hospitality accordingly offers the possibility of transforming strangers into friends who respond with their own gift, promise, and new life (67). This new life is instrumental in the case of parents offering space to children (81-84), teachers offering space to students (84-90), and healers offering space to patients (91-97). Hospitality is for Nouwen a primal concern.  Lonely people cannot offer much space, solitude is a key prerequisite for hospitality (101), which necessarily brings us to God.

Movement from Illusion to Prayer

No paths up the mountain lead to God; God must come down, as Nouwen relates:

“. . . the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either.” (126)

Nouwen notes the problem of finding a spiritual guide. He finds wisdom in praying the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” (141) I was taught the Jesus prayer working in a Catholic hospital as a substitute for the negative self-talk often practiced by psychiatric patients.[3] Because we all practice negative self-talk, the motivation to engage in continuous prayer (or to pray the Jesus prayer) is much the same. It makes space in our hearts for God, who grants us a capacity for both solitude and hospitality.

Assessment

Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out has been a significant influence on my spiritual life since I first read in 2007 and it continues to influence my professional writing. Like all of Nouwen’s writing, this book reads well but requires reflection, like any classic in Christian spirituality. Christians serious about deepening their faith will want to spend some time with this book.

 

[1] http://www.LArcheDaybreak.com.

[2] Wil Hernandez, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, (New York: Paulist Press, 2006),page 126.

[3] A somewhat longer breathe prayer was prayed by Nehemiah just before speaking to the king: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  (Neh 1:11 ESV)

 

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Hernandez Explores the Polarities and Tension in Nouwen 

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Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad ya está disponible!

Una Guia Cristian a la EspiritualidadSpanish Edition of A Christian Guide to Spirituality is Now Available!

Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad is now available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle EBook.

View the trailer in YouTube: https://youtu.be/tv0rgYH-2VQ.

For a discount on the paperback edition, go to https://www.createspace.com/5716951 and enter 83WZLNW4 to receive a 30 percent discount.

Para más información en español, véase: http://wp.me/p4iojd-8F.

Alternatively, visit my Amazon author page at:  Amazon.com/author/stephen_w_hiemstra.

Thanks for your patience!  This project has been a blessing, but also a long time in coming.

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Prayer Day 4: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Eternal and Compassionate Father. Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eterno y compasivo Padre. Ayudan nos a aceptar tú en todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Gracias por crean nos en tu imagen. Bendicen nuestras familias. Perdonan nuestros pecados y rebelión. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, restauran a nosotros el gozo de tu salvación. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

 

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Prayer Day 3: A Christian’s Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit. We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, amado Hijo, siempre presente Espíritu. Te alabamos por crea nos en tu imagen, por caminar con nosotros incluso cuando nos pecamos, y por restaurar nos patentemente en tu favor. Fortalece nos en tu identidad. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, destapa nuestro oídos; descubre nuestros ojos; suaviza nuestras corazones; ilumina nuestros mentes. Forma nos mas y mas en tu imagen que podemos también crecer. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 2, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Heavenly Father:  We praise you for creating heaven and earth; for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen.  We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future.  We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is ever present with us; who sustains all things; who showers us with spiritual gifts.  Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, te alabamos para creación de los cielos y de la tierra; para creación de todo que es, que fue, y que sera; para creación de las cosas visibles e invisibles. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismo en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret; nuestro modelo en la vida, redentor en el muerto, y la esperanza para el futuro. Te alabamos por el Espíritu Santo, quien está presente con nosotros que duchar nos con dones espirituales y sustentar todo las cosas. Abierta nuestras corazones, iluminar nuestros mentes, fortalecer nuestros manos en su servicio. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

Cup_and_knife_12022013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Whom do you seek?  They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am he… they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).

Jesus is full of surprises.

If a crowd of angry, armed men came up to you on a dark night and asked for you by name, then the expected answer is something like:  sorry, I have no idea who you are looking for!!!  What does Jesus do?  Jesus asks who they are looking for and volunteers—that’s me.  Actually, Jesus says–I am—which is the same expression in Greek that God uses to respond to Moses in the burning bush (ἐγώ εἰμι (Exodus 3:14).

The soldiers and officials of the chief priests (v 3) sense the presence of God—a theophany—and they draw back falling to the ground (v 6).  They are so confused that Jesus has to repeat the question—who are you looking for? (v 7)  Having focused their attention on himself, he asks them to let his disciples go and they comply. This response fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy in John 10:28 (vv 8-9).

Jesus is taken away and undergoes three interrogations:  before Annas (vv 13-23), Caiaphas (vv 24-28), and Pontius Pilate (vv 29-38).  In these three interrogations, Jesus is clearly in control in conversations with powerful leaders;  by contrast, the Apostle Peter is shaken by conversations with mere no bodies and denies his relationship with Jesus three times.

Annas is the previous high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the presiding high priest.  Annas asked Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (v 19) to which Jesus replied:  why are you asking me? (v 21)  Because Jesus is being tried for sedition (being king of the Jews), Annas has to prove that a conspiracy exists–one man’s confession does not suggest a conspiracy.  As a capital case, Jewish law requires at least two witnesses(Deuteronomy 17:6).  Annas has none!

So Jesus is sent to Caiaphas.  John’s Gospel records no discussion from this interrogation, but a lengthy proceeding is recorded in Matthew.  Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Son of God (Matthew 26:63).  Jesus answers the question and Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy—a charge punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16).  Pushing the Romans to crucify Jesus (hung on a tree) implies that they wanted him cursed by God—discredited as well as killed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Jesus is then sent to Pilate who asks:  are you the king of the Jews (v 33).  Jesus’ question—did someone ask you to pose this question—begs clarification because the Jewish and Roman interests in the question differ (v 34).  A Jew would ask—are you the Messiah?  But the Romans only wanted to know if Jesus were a revival king—a political threat.  Jesus responds to Pilate’s concern about political opposition by reminding Pilate that his disciples did not put up a fight when he was arrested (v 36).  At this point, Jesus’ innocence is obvious.  Pilate then concludes that Jesus is no threat (v 38).

In some sense, each of us put Jesus on trial in our own hearts and minds.  Do we scorn the truth just to get what we want?  Do we prefer the Son of God or Barabbas?

Jesus is full of surprises.

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Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace

Max Lucado, Fearless

Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace

Max Lucado.  2009.  Fearless:  Imagine Your Life Without Fear.   Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Do you believe in divine intervention?  I do.  Let me give an example.

In 2010, I signed up for a small group discussion at church.  A couple days later the small group coordinator called to ask me:  because the group that I have signed up for was over-subscribed, would I be willing to join another group?  No problem, I said reluctantly thinking to myself–why would I want to join a group proposing to talk about fear?  So I bought the book.  As I started reading, I found my life jumping off the pages–not only had fear crept into my life; it was quietly dictating a lot of my decisions.  Through almost no effort on my part, God had directed me to a major stronghold in my life and helped me deal with it (Psalm 18:2).

What was the book? It was Max Lucado’s  Fearless:  Imagining Your Life Without Fear.

Introduction

Lucado observes that:  ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s (5).  He goes on to observe that fear displaces happiness; fear is unproductive; fear is self-defeating.  Jesus spoke out against fear, for example, after the storm on the Galilee saying:  why were you afraid? (Matthew 8:26; 6)  In suggesting the destructive potential of fear, Lucado (9) cites Martin Niemoeller’s observation in 1933 that the tyrant that Adolf Hilter became was born in fear.  Is it any wonder that Christ is famous for bringing peace:  Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me (John 14:1 NLT;  11)?

Organization

Lucado’s book is organized in 15 chapters.  The first chapter, partially summarized above, poses the question:  why are we afraid?  The next 13 chapters focus on case studies of fears that we commonly confront–fear of not mattering, of disappointing God, of running out, of not protecting our kids, of overwhelming challenges, of worst-case scenarios, of violence, of the coming winter, of life’s final moments, of what’s next, that God is not real, of global calamity, of God getting out of my box.  The final chapter concludes with stories reiterating the problems caused merely by fear and with people’s responses to tragedy.  The final of these is the story of a young missionary who, as he watched his home burned the ground, recited a psalm and found solace in God (178-180).  After the conclusions, Lucado provides a discussion guide with questions for small groups.  In my own small group, we also viewed a related DVD based video.

Fears Need to Be Named

When Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the Gerasenes, he started by asking: What is your name? (Mark 5:9 ESV).  Lucado approaches our fears in a similar matter.  By naming our fears, he deprives them of their power.  He then redirects us to God where the power of the Holy Spirit may be found.

Parental Fear

Perhaps one of the most insidious fears is the fear of parents that they will be powerless to protect their kids.  This is especially true of your first child because you feel totally unprepared for the job of parenting and terribly vulnerable.  Lucado (57) notes that: fear distilleries concoct a high-octane brew for parents–a primal gut-wrenching, pulse-stilling dose.  When our children have teachable moments, Lucado (60) observes that out of fear we often become both paranoid and permissive when we should be trusting God and modeling trust to our children.

He recommends that we pour our fears out to God, not to our children, and pray with them about the issues that they confront (61).  The principle here is that:  we cannot protect our children from every threat in life, but we can take them to the Source of Life (61).   Remember that young children often look at their parents before they decide to cry–even when badly injured–and, when they see we are afraid, they cry.  Throughout his discussion, Lucado looks to scripture for guidance.  In this chapter, he reviews stories of Abraham (Genesis 22), Jairus (Luke 8), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), and the father with the epileptic son (Matthew 17), but lingers longest on the story of Jairus.  He concludes that clearly: God has a heart for hurting parents (63).

Assessment

Max Lucado’s Fearless is a book to read and pass around.  His writing contains numerous stories which makes his writing both accessible and interesting.  After 9-11, after so many years of the Great Recession and war, Fearless is clearly a book for our times.

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JOHN 16: The Helper

Maple_leaves_11162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 25:5 ESV).

It is hard to image the terror of the disciples on the other side of the cross.  In John 16, we get a glimpse.

The chapter opens with Jesus facing a leadership crisis.

Jesus starts by saying:  I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away (v 1).  The word translated as falling away, σκανδαλίζω, means: to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin (BDAD 6682.1).  In other words, the disciples are at risk of breaking up as a group and losing their reason for being.

This theme is repeated at the end of the chapter.  In verse 32, for example, we see a word similar to falling away—scattered.  The Greek word is σκορπίζω which is translated as meaning:   to cause a group or gathering to go in various directions, scatter, disperse (BDAG 6717).

The particular significance of this word, σκορπίζω, is that it brings to mind a prophecy from Zechariah:   Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, they are my people; and they will say, the Lord is my God (Zechariah 13:7-9; also: Malachi 3:1-3).  Zechariah sees the scattering as a means to create a remnant of believers.

Between the falling away and the scattering references, Jesus discusses the coming persecution (v 2), his death (v 20a), and his resurrection (v 20b).  All of this discussion is accompanied by confusion—image how you would receive prophecy of a friend’s death. The key point of this section is Jesus’ discussion of the Holy Spirit which he describes as the Paraclete (helper—v 7) and the Spirit of Truth (v 13).

As Jesus describes the Holy Spirit, two separate tasks are outlined.  Among non-believers:  he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (v 8).  In convicting the world of sin, demonstrating righteousness, and bringing judgment, the Holy Spirit acts independently of the church (vv 9-11).  Among believers: he will guide you into all the truth (v 13a).  Part of this truth will take the form of prophecy (vv 13b, 15) and part will consist of pointing back to Christ (v 14).

Jesus ends by saying:  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (v 33).  This is the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

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JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:4-7 ESV).

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is simple, yet disturbing.

At one point when I was working as a chaplain intern in a psyche ward, I overheard a young woman pleading over the phone with her parents to be transferred to another hospital.  The reason?  She had been given a New Testament and had read all the way to chapter 15 of John’s Gospel.  Reading about the vine and the branches she had interpreted the metaphor to mean that, because she had had no children (no fruit in her mind), she stood under God’s judgment. So, she wanted to be transferred to another hospital!

While most of us probably have not understood the metaphor of the vine and the branches quite the same way as this young patient, yet the metaphor is a challenging description of a life of discipleship.  For example, verse 6 speaks to the exclusively of Christ in salvation and judgment: If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (v 6).  Neither notion is popular today.  Yet even verse 2 is enough to generate serious controversy:  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (v 2).  Branches bearing no fruit get taken away;  branches bearing fruit get pruned!

Most discussions of this metaphor of the vine and the branches seem to skip both verses and head immediately for verse 7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (v 7).  We all love to ask for things!  Yet, verse 8 makes it clear that it is the fruit that we bear that makes us Christ’s disciples.  Looking back at verse 7, we note that the sentence is conditional–if you abide in me and my words.  The Greek word for abide means stay or remain.  Bearing fruit is evidence that you abide in Christ.  The key to answered prayer is to abide in Christ and bear fruit, as repeated in verse 16.

The love commandment in verse 12 may also disturb a careful reader.  The measure of love is found in verse 13:  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (v 13).  Jesus did just that–he died on the cross; Jesus is our model.  This implies that a life of discipleship requires sacrifice, maybe even death.  This implication is underscored in verse 14 when Jesus says:  You are my friends if you do what I command you (v 14).  Jesus kept the Father’s commands;  we are to keep his.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the love commandment embodies not just warm fuzzy feelings on sunny days but also obedience to the entire witness of scripture–especially the law.

Disturbing also is John’s discussion of the world.  Jesus says: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (v 18).  The life of Christ’s disciple is to be modeled after Christ–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that we are promised the Spirit of Truth, the Helper–the Holy Spirit–who will bear witness to Christ (vv 28-29).

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