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“As my class in Chicago read the Gospels and watched movies about Jesus’ life, we noticed a striking pattern: the more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons.
“In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought him uncouth and worldly, a rich young ruler walked away shaking his head, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness.
“I remarked to the class how strange this pattern seemed, since the Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the people most suspicious of Jesus on earth. What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus day? Why don’t sinners like being around us?”
– Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

What are “Jesus movies” that you’ve seen? How is Jesus portrayed in these movies?

How can we become more approachable for “sinners”?

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“In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
– Philippians 2:5-11.

Jesus’ life was characterized by humility. What is the definition of humility? How can you embody humility?

“There is a world and wisdom according to normal. There is a world and wisdom according to Jesus. The world according to normal is the world that is. The wisdom of the world is ‘normal.’ People who don’t know who Jesus is are the ‘normal people.’ People for whom God is, to quote Edwin Muir, ‘three angry letters in a book’ are the normal people.
“It is not enough to say that Jesus redefined what it means to be ‘normal.’ Everything Jesus taught goes against how ‘normal’ people see and function in the world. Turning the other cheek, going the second mile, giving the spare coat, washing underlings’ feet, heaping blessings on those who curse you, living without anger, laying down your life– all these things ‘normal’ people have a hard time understanding, much less thinking and living.”
– Leonard Sweet, Jesus Drive Me Crazy!

List other ways that Jesus redefined normal. What comes easiest for you? With what do you struggle?

“Standing on a London street corner, G. K. Chesterton was approached by a newspaper reporter. ‘Sir, I understand that you recently became a Christian. May I ask you one question?’
‘Certainly,’ replied Chesterton.
‘If the risen Christ suddenly appeared at this very moment and stood behind you, what would you do?’
Chesterton look the reporter squarely in the eye and said, ‘He is.’”
– Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child.

How are you doing at sensing the living Christ behind you?

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
– Psalm 46:10

How are you at “being still”? Spend some time being still. What distractions creep in? What can you do to silence the distractions?

“To pray is to walk in the full light of God, and to say simply, without holding back, ‘I am human and you are God.’ At that moment, conversion occurs, the restoration of the true relationship. A human being is not someone who once in a while makes a mistake, and God is not someone who now and then forgives. No, human beings are sinners and God is love.”
– Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Open Hands.

How would you describe your current relationship with God? Do you have a proper perspective? What needs to change for true conversion to occur?

“It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. ‘Look out!’ we cry, ‘it’s alive.’ And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back–I would have done so myself if I could–and proceed no further with Christianity. An ‘impersonal God’–well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads–better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap–best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband–that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
– C. S. Lewis, Miracles.

In what ways do you sense that God is alive? When do you feel you’ve most found God or that God has found you?

“Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.
He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys. The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.
How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number– living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works– he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
– Psalm 104:1-32

This psalm is one of many that describes God. What characteristics stand out to you? How does the psalmist describe God?

Yesterday we began our Spiritual Growth Theological Series. We began with the subject of “God is God . . . and I am not.” The readings will be about God this week.

“If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God that you have found.”
– Thomas Merton.

How do we most deceive ourselves about God? How do we ensure that it is the true God we are following?

I want to conclude this series on Yancey’s book, Prayer, because we’re starting a new series at church on Sunday and I wanted to include those readings on the blog each day. Yancey’s last section, deals with the practice of prayer. He has chapters on “Prayer and Me,” “Prayer and Others,” and “Prayer and God.”

But I wanted to include one other story he cites. He writes:

“Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Catholic archbishop of Manila who played a key role in the People Power revolution there, liked to tell the story of a woman who attended his weekly audience to inform him she had a message from God. He brushed her off several times, but she kept coming back. Finally he said, ‘We Catholics have strict rules governing visions and messages from God. I need to test your authenticity. I want you to go back and ask God about a particular sin I recently confessed in private. If you ask God and he tells you the answer, I’ll know your vision is genuine.’
“The next week she returned and he quizzed her, a bit nervously, ‘Well, did you ask God about my sin?’
‘I did.’
‘ And did God answer?’
‘ Yes.’
‘ What did he say?’
‘ God said that he couldn’t remember.'”

I wonder if she got her audience. But what a powerful view of God’s love and forgiveness.