Abiding, Together

Finding Blues

I was about 9 years old the first time I heard someone play the blues. My family and I were visiting some friends in Chicago and – as we were leaving the airport – I saw an older black man standing by a pillar with an open case – who seemed to be not so much playing his saxophone but – with his eyes closed – he was coaxing it to give up this bewitching, sorrowful tune. I don’t remember if it was right then or later on, but soon after I told my mom: “That’s what I want to play.”

Seven years later – when I was 16 – I played my first show with a small jazz/blues group from my High School. I was never good at reading sheet music but I was quick at memorizing the pieces so it wasn’t much of an issue. What worried me was that my teacher had given me a few thirty second spots to do some improv. I knew the scales, I loved the music but I was scared cold. It did not go well. Every time I made a mistake I became noticeably upset. After the show, my dad asked me: “You were pretty hard on yourself, hu?” “Ya, I guess so.”  “You know, it looked like your teacher was trying to encourage you but you were so upset you never looked up to see what he was doing.”


So, here we are, we’ve finished Deuteronomy. Two weeks ago we looked at the Israelites arrival at the edge of the promised land – for the second time; the first time did not go very well. There, Moses gave the speech we read in Deuteronomy and told the Israelites they could choose the blessing – wholeness and goodness in God’s story – or the curse of their own story. And we have that same choice: to give in to our rebellious miswanting and sin against God or actively trust in God and what He is doing.

Last week, we talked about a story that conflicts with God’s story – one that is imbedded in our collective story as Americans: the belief that we are like Israel, a chosen people and – now that we have chosen God’s blessing – we have to keep things good or right. And we mentioned that the crossroads of this conflicting story and God’s story is most clear in the word Atonement, “at-one-ment”, which means being at one or unified God. Atonement is the crossroads because we either believe that God took our sin but we have to make sure to keep things clean/good or we actively trust that Jesus has taken our sin and rescued us from evil, so we don’t have to keep ourselves in God’s good story.

And now we’ve made it to Joshua! Let’s watch a short piece of this video to catch us up with the first part of Joshua: (00:00 - 02:37)

From The Bible Project. http://www.thebibleproject.com

So after all that craziness coming out of Egypt, a year at Mt. Sinai, the wilderness, the edge of the Promised Land, the Israelites rebelling and 40 more years in the wilderness, they are finally going into the Promised Land.

God wants us to participate with Him in His story.

There is a detail in this story that I hadn’t noticed before this year that I find fascinating: The fact that God told Moses – and I assume Joshua – to send spies into the land before they went in.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. […] Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” – Numbers 13:1-3, 17-20

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” – Joshua 2:1

It’s funny how Joshua sent two spies instead of twelve: “Ya, I was there last time. We had twelve spies and it did not go well. Caleb almost got in fist fight with Shaphat…no, this time we send two.”

Here is what is interesting to me: Why did God tell them to spy out the Promised Land to see if it was good? He could have simply lead them right in to the Promised Land without them knowing if it would be hard or easy.

As best I can tell, it was because God wanted the Israelites to participate WITH Him in what He was doing. He wanted them to join Him in writing the story – not go off and write their own story but also not passively follow Him around like a zombie hoard.

We see this again when God speaks to Joshua as he takes over for Moses:

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, "Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." – Joshua 1:1-9

God tells Joshua: “You are part of a promise, a story that I started a long time ago. You saw how Moses played a part in that story with me and it will be the same for you. I will never leave you or give up on you. So be strong and courageous. Fix your mind on my words and keep your actions directed by my commandments. I will be be with you.”

God invited Joshua to participate with Him in what He was about to do. It was still God’s plan, God’s battles, God’s story. God was and is in complete control of the universe He created and yet allows and invites His children to participate in what He is doing.

In Jesus, we don’t participate with God through keeping commandments but by abiding in Him as we live out our story in His story.

(Joshua Video: 02:37 - 04:47)

As Joshua and Israelites enter the land – especially in what happened at Jericho and Ai – they learned that participating in God’s story meant trusting in God and obeying His commands. This is part of what we talked about last week: for them, “at-one-ness” with God came through commandments, sacrifice and purification. And even that was unheard of in the ancient near east: a god who chose to dwell with his people and gave them laws and practices that would allow them to dwell in his presence? Crazy! That was a level of intimacy between God and humanity that had not been seen before.

But it get’s even better: the rest of Scripture tells us how God was not content with that level of relationship between Himself and us. That’s not how He made things to be. Despite the fact that we were the ones who rebelled and sinned against God, breaking off our intimacy and allowing evil and death to flood God’s creation, God knew this mediated relationship, mediated participation in His story through the law wasn’t good enough. So God sent His son Jesus –God with us and in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection we are made good – cleaned and rescued from sin and evil – and we are made whole as His good story reigns more and more in our lives, our neighborhoods and our whole world.

We are rescued from sin and evil and into God’s family, so participation with God in His story is now more than following directions, it is what Jesus calls “abiding” in John 15:1-5.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 

The picture is pretty clear: just like a stem or branch has to remain connected to the main part of the plant, our participation with God in His Story comes by remaining connected to Jesus.

But because most of us don’t have a long history of agricultural experiences that we can draw from to internalize this reality, we are going to try this a different way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – German theologian from the 1940’s – wrote this in his book Life Together:

”God has prepared for Himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join in this song. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

So, we are going to get short lesson in jazz improv from an encounter between two people: Dotan Negrin – who decided to quit his job and travel the world playing his piano – and Frans Bak – a dutch film composer. I assume some of you have seen this before but let’s watch what happened the first time these two men met on the streets of Paris:

Isn't that great!?

What is engaging about this moment is not what each guy played but what they created together, the interaction between the two of them and how Dotan trusted Frans to lead him in creating something beautiful.

That’s abiding: Keeping our attention and trust on God as he leads us through creating something beautiful together.

He wants to abide with us.

We may know this or even want this kind of life with God, but – most likely because of how we read our own life experiences – we’ve come to believing that God doesn’t want to abide with us.

We often think God is emotionally immature, yelling “love me!” while walking away from us, making us chase Him down. We read Joshua 1 as if God had said: “Joshua, I want you to be part of my story. I’ll be with you…but only if you keep up.”

We have a difficult time believing God wants to abide with us. But listen to these:

  • Genesis 28:15 God talking to Jacob: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
  • Deuteronomy 31:6 Moses talking to the Israelites: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
  •  1 Chronicles 28:20 David talking to Solomon: “Then David said to Solomon his son, "Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.”
  • Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Abiding is active and hard but it’s not a chore God dumps on us and leaves us with.

Through the Holy Spirit, with the help of our community.

So the most obvious question is: how do we abide? “Thank you Ben, you just told us how scaling Everest will give you the greatest view on planet earth. I believe you. Now what?”

Taking Deuteronomy/Joshua, Jesus’ image of the branch and the vine and this moment of collaborative, jazz improv. Here are three things we need to know about keeping our attention and trust on God as he leads us through creating something beautiful together:

1. Abiding happens through the Holy Spirit:

“It’s hard to pay attention to Jesus when I can’t see Him.” True, and Jesus knew that. Which is why He gave us His Spirit.

John 14:26 – But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

At about 11:30 pm last Sunday, J.D. and I finished these bucket gardens. We planted a mix of vegetables and herbs from some small plants we got at Home Depot. On Monday afternoon, I took the dog out to pee and was surprised to find the plants had already grown. Not a ton, but enough to notice. So Tuesday morning, I woke up and started thinking what if they grew a little more? What do you think I did? I ran outside to find out! Sure enough, they did! Since then I’ve gone out every day expecting to see growth.

This is part of how the Holy Spirit works, helping us imagine and pay attention to what is already true: that Jesus is here with us and at work right now. But we can choose to listen or to ignore Him. If I get out of bed and ignore the memory of the plants growing and just jump in to doing whatever needs to be done, what happens? I stop paying attention to the plants. And, over time, it becomes harder and harder to imagine that anything is happening.

Mention Family practices: stopping, meditative reading, contemplative prayer, etc.

Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

2. Abiding happens in the ordinary:

Because if abiding is keeping our attention and trust on God as he leads us through creating something beautiful together, where do you think that is going to happen? Everywhere. When you are doing your work, reading your Bible, conversations with your friends and neighbors, while having dinner with your family, when we are here at the Gathering. That is why we talk a lot about seeing Jesus glorified in our everyday roles and relationships. We don’t have to go to a sacred space or wait for a certain day to see and be a part of what God is doing.

What if Dotan had said: “I’m sorry, I’m just playing borings songs right now. Come back tomorrow I’m playing the inspirational songs.”

For the record: this space is part of our ordinary lives. You are here every week. As a church family we aren’t trying to grab this view of the Gathering or church service and pull it down. We are trying to see that this is real life and Jesus is already out there as much as He is here. We have a high expectation of seeing Jesus in the ordinary, which is why we have a high expectation of seeing Jesus here in the Gathering.

3. Abiding happens with the help of our community:

Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

There is one household. One temple. One home for God. One song we are playing. We abide with Jesus and we create together. There is no other song that just Jesus and I get to play over here without everyone else. Unfortunately, we can be in community and not do this. How uncomfortable would it feel if you when to see the symphony perform and the whole orchestra was there together but not playing the same song or playing any song at all!

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.” – Bonhoeffer, Life Together

We can be in community but ignore the presence of Jesus in one another and not allow ourselves to be known enough for people to point out Jesus in us.

Why is that a concern? Because – like we talked about two weeks ago – we humans are notorious for being ones who don’t know what we don’t know. We are incapable of figuring out where we don’t see Jesus on our own. That’s how we were made: Genesis 2 God said “It is not good that man should be alone.” As much as we want to believe it, no human being on the planet is self-sufficient physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

Paying attention to Jesus requires being a part of a people where we are vulnerable, where we recognize our need for the other to keep paying attention to Jesus. Without community we are prone to play the same notes over and over again.

This is the difference between getting together – maybe in our DNA groups – and everyone sitting around listening to each other talk about their own story, nodding our heads or helping one another read their story in light of God’s greater story and our church family’s collective story. simplify

Homework is to ask your DNA group: “How do you see this part of God’s story clarifying or confronting my story?”

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

But ouur job is not to tell people how they are playing the wrong notes. Our job is to see one another as new creations and – what Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation – to keep telling each other “look, Jesus!” That does not mean sin doesn’t matter. If someone is sinning, they are paying attention to something other than Jesus.

”We are all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

Sadly, we fall into thinking that our community isn’t good if it doesn’t fit our picture of community. My Gospel Community isn’t nice enough or caring enough or active enough or fun enough or whatever for me to invest myself.

That’s the point! None of us knows the whole song, what we are really saying is “I don’t love these people enough to help them see Jesus where I see Him more clearly and I don’t need the way THEY see Jesus more clearly.”

”The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Practicing what we are already doing.

Be encouraged! In Christ, this is already happening!

  • I’ve seen people here who – despite their own financial instability – have given generously to the church and to other families in the church.
  • I’ve seen people here show up with a meal just because someone has had a hectic week.
  • I’ve seen people here who care for the teams they lead at their work in a way that brings value to those individuals.
  • I’ve seen people here make hard life choices that allow them to use their finances, time and attention to adopt children.
  • I’ve seen people here who intentionally chose to live in an area where they see need is present.
  • I’ve seen people here choose to be a part of community with other people who aren't the same age or in the same life stage as them.

I want you to know, Jesus is already here. Like a father watching his kids play “That’s so good! Keep going! I can’t wait to show you what else we can do together!” And as Philippians 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.


Here is something else that I hope will be encouraging. Jesus is the Hero no matter what you think or feel about it. His view of things (including you) is more real than your view of things.

True God & Eternal Life

1 John 5:20 – And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Light of the World

John 8:12 – Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The King

Revelation 19:11-16 – Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has pa name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

The Creator

Colossians 1:16 – For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.

Our Advocate

1 John 2:1 – My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Our Atonement

1 John 2:2 – He is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The Giver of Life

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Never Changing

Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Purpose Giver

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Author of our Story

Hebrews 12:1-2 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

With Us, Always

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”