Monday, January 30, 2012

An Achilles Heart

In Greek mythology, the warrior Achilles dies from a poison arrow that pierces his heel. His mother had sought to protect him from such a predicted outcome by dipping him in the river Styx. But she lowered him into the river, holding him by the ankle, prohibiting the medicinal water from washing over his heel, leaving him unprotected in that one spot.

Wow. For a preacher, this exposes a boatload of material. “you shall bruise his heel.” Baptism by (almost) immersion. Goliath’s exposed forehead.

But I was reading Titus this morning, and was struck with my own problem: not an achilles heel, but an achilles heart. Whatever our strengths, our hearts are terribly vulnerable to the darts of the devil. “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” (Titus 3:2–3 NAS95) The next verses show us how God has changed our situation, but we find that it is easy to revert back to sinful patterns.

Let’s ask God to protect our Achilles hearts. Pray that He would protect us from the poison darts that would lay us low.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Double Commands in Mark's Gospel

Six times in Mark’s Gospel, there are double commands: do this and this. I would like to organize these in a chiastic structure, folding the first in relation to the last, the second with the fifth, and the third with the fourth.
A 1:15 - Repent and believe the Gospel
B 1:25 - Be quiet and come out of him
C 2:9 - Get up, pick up your pallet, and walk
C’ 10:21 - Go and sell, and come, follow me
B’ 11:23 - Be taken up and cast into the sea
A’ 14:38 - Watch and pray
Let’s start from the middle and work out. As you can see, these are not merely double commands, but triple. They are both instances of Jesus speaking to individuals in the midst of conflict. In the first conflict, there is outside resistance to Jesus' authority to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” So instead, he says, “Get up!” In either case, it is obvious that Jesus is able to reach into this person’s life and make a directional different. On the other hand, in C’, Jesus’ words to the rich, young ruler expose an internal conflict that remains unresolved since he is unwilling/unable to deny himself in obedience to Jesus’ command(s).
Our B and B’ references highlight a larger, supernatural conflict. Jesus opposes an evil force in 1:25, and wins. Jesus instructs his disciples in 11:23 that they have access to a power through faith that is more than natural. This theme of beyond-human-ability power is key in Jesus’ ministry, and in the early church. One wonders what has happened to it.
Finally, our A and A’ references are evangelistic and discipleship instructions. If “repent and believe” are essential instructions for the lost, then “watch and pray” are just as essential for the conduct of the saved. In both cases, an epochal change is occurring, and the wise hearer will respond to both commands. Christians who adopt a lifestyle which is not characterized by “watch and pray” behaviors are just simply not preparing themselves for the inevitable conflicts that they will face as followers of Christ in this world (cf the C and C’ references), and will not avail themselves of the power needed for spiritual ministry (as illustrated in the B and B’ references).

Friday, January 13, 2012

depending on where our heart is, every wilderness can be a garden; every garden a wilderness

Don’t Waste the Wilderness

We live with the benefits of a great civilization. We enjoy tremendous blessings from national stability and military security; from an economic system that, though damaged, still works; and from technologies that, along with stupefying distractions, bring amazing remedies and conveniences. And we know that all this could change.
“Wilderness” is a big theme in the Bible. Wilderness is the sphere into which the organization and comforts of civilization have not taken hold. The Biblical wilderness is no cultivated and patrolled preserve into which you venture with your best friend along with unused and untested REI gear. No, the wilderness is a testing ground, a place that will bring you to your knees. It is the place over which the curse of God hangs, and in which, if you are to survive, will need to discover something of the mercies of God.
In personal terms, you may be experiencing some aspects of wilderness life. To gain your attention or to accomplish some improvement, God may be resting a heavy hand upon your life. He, in a moment, can remove prosperity and pleasure, health and success. He can instantly bring us to our knees, and make us completely and immediately dependent upon him. All the securities in the world cannot protect us, nor can new technologies deliver us. God scatters us to wilderness experiences so that He can gather us to Himself. 
Looking way, way back, Israel must have remembered those years of “wilderness wanderings” as the best of times. No, they were not without their tests and hardships. There were many failures of faith. But the desperate need for God was so real, they could taste it. And I wonder if Jesus, reviewing his earthly ministry, did not look back with fondness on those 40 days in the wilderness. There was the gnawing privation from fasting, and the spiritual battle with that Tempter, Satan. And yet there was the clear and steady reliance on the Word of God in the context of undistracted communion with God. Afterward, there would be the constant press of people, of the business of ministry. The wilderness provided deadly peril, but also genuine blessing.
Don’t waste the wilderness experience into which God may be thrusting you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Little is Much," by Downhere

One of my favorite songs:

What is the measure of a life well lived
If all I can offer seems too small to give
This is a song for the weaker, the poorer
And so-called failures

Little is much when God's in it
And no one can fathom the plans He holds
Little is much when God's in it
He changes the world with the seeds we sow
Little is much, little is much

Who feels tired and under-qualified
Who feels deserted, and hung out to dry
This is a song for the broken, the beat-up
And so-called losers

Consider a Kingdom in the smallest seed
Consider that giants fall to stones and slings
Consider a child in a manger
Consider the story isn't over
What can be done with what you still have

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Excited about starting a series on the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is presented as the One and Only Hero that we need. This week: Jesus' Front Man, John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8)