Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The mystic-warrior.

“Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I was hiking alone six years ago, on my way to seeing the figure on the water (a story for a later time). Somewhere along the way, I thought about this verse. Look at what it says. If a lack of striving is equal to or flows naturally into knowledge of God, then striving imposes an ignorance or unknowing of God. It frightens me that I am unknowing more than I would like. This is a war-Psalm, by the way (like Psalm 2) – God’s battle against a humanity that wants to do it their way, no matter Who sits on High. Our striving, battling…they are against the Unseen-on-High. The more we battle, struggle, strive, the less we know of Him. God is in the business of Creation; sometimes it is His answer to unknowing (see Jeremiah 4:22,23…no, really, look it up!). “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

  • My prayer: to only be moved by the exhale of the Ancient One. I will be that perfectly still water that reflects the parade of the Heavens on a winter’s night, ready for Creation.
  • My salvation: “…what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not…the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:15,18,19,22-25; 8:1).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Walls, trenches, death, and wine.

"...he must desire life like water, and yet drink death like wine."

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

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“Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:10,11). Don't you just love that overcoming doesn't involve survival? That Jesus can say things like, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31), and keep a straight face? They'll kill my body, but my soul and hair will look good!

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I'm thinking of sandcastles at the beach. I enjoy building them, but also enjoy trying to come up with moats and seawalls and trenches to divert the tide. I know it's futile, but I still can't help myself. It doesn't really matter how many ways I try to protect the castle, the sea will take it on the next high tide. I'm not going to apply this as you might think.

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We never know how we'll face that last moment. It's inevitable, but no matter how much we consider it, I suspect it's nothing like our imaginations. "He who has found his life will lose it, and He who has lost his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33). As much as I enjoy building the castle itself, I enjoy the walls and trenches a whole lot more; away from the center of attention, away from the imaginary throne room and luxury suite at the top of the tower, away from the games of the courtyard and the hierarchy of the grand table in the dining hall. Let me build walls and trenches. Instead of living for the accouterments of Babylon (build of the grocery lists of Revelation 18:12,13), let's make a daily habit of facing the inevitable tide, embracing the moment in Christ, knowing it to be a taste of the eternal. Work, work, work, knowing that it will be swept away tomorrow and the deeper sea imagined in the trenches and ignored in the court will be all the reality there is tomorrow.

* * * * * * *

"...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1,2). Where the the throne of joy? Just over the hill (mixing my metaphors now). Hmm. There seems to be something in the way. Cross, shame. Ah, but the other side...drink deep the cup, choke down the dregs, practice that wildly insane look, and smile as the tide comes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Three Markan Silences.

Many of us have wondered about the commands to silence that Jesus gives throughout the Gospels. I’ve always assumed it was Jesus’ way of controlling the situation, adjusting the heat, if you will, so that the opposition didn’t reach a fever pitch until the Providentially-ordained moment. I’m sure that’s true to a certain extent, but I think there’s a greater purpose behind the commands to silence. It has to do with Jesus’ stated purpose for stepping down from heaven: the Message.

  • “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).
  • “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14,15).
  • “…immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (1:21,22).
  • “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for” (1:38).
  • “He was speaking the word to them” (2:2).
  • “He was teaching them” (2:13).
  • “He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach” (3:14).
  • “He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables” (3:23).
  • “He began to teach again by the sea…He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching…with many such parables He was speaking the word to them” (4:1,2,33).
  • “When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (6:2).
  • “They went out and preached that men should repent” (6:12).
  • “He began to teach them many things” (6:34).
  • “He was teaching His disciples and telling them…” (9:31).
  • “He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them” (10:1).
  • “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching” (14:49).
  • “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…they went out and preached everywhere” (16:15).
  • “…they went out and preached everywhere” (16:20).

We see from the amount of these verses in this short Gospel that one of Jesus’ main purposes on this earth was the presentation of His Message. It was a treasure to Him, something precious. His commands for silence throughout this Gospel should be seen in that light. He is not controlling events, but taking care that the Message is treated with the respect it deserves.

Silence #1: The Messenger Must Not Taint the Message (Silencing the Unclean Spirits)

The Examples

· Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God!’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’” (1:23-25).

· “And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew Who He was” (Mark 1:34).

· “Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’ And He earnestly warned them not to tell Who He was” (Mark 3:11,12).

Ignoring the Message Because of the Messenger

The Pharisees ignored the message of Jesus by saying He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul.[1][1] Those who hate the message will rarely attack the message; no one wants to be in the position of opposing the Word of God.

The Way the Message Is to Be Shared

In contrast to the disruptive and undisciplined announcements of those possessed by unclean spirits, the sharing of the Message by the saints is completely directed by God.

It is God the Father’s message:

· John the Baptist’s final testimony: “He Whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34).

· “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14:10).

· “…the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me” (John 17:8).

It is shared because of the love of God the Son:

· “…the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

· “…speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

It is given through the power of the Holy Spirit:

· “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23).

Silence #2: The Physical Must Never Become More Important Than the Spiritual (Silencing the Healed of Humanity)

The Examples

· "And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere” (Mark 1:40-45).

· Jesus, after raising the little girl from the dead, gave these directions: “…He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat” (Mark 5:43).

· After healing the deaf and dumb man: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

Miracles Don’t Save – the Gospel Saves

Look at 1 Corinthians 12-14. While chapter 12 mentions the spiritual gift of healing (12:9,28,30), the focus is on the multitude of gifts all serving the unified body of Christ. Chapter 13 deals with the motivation for our mutual service: love. Chapter 14 deals with the heart of the matter: we must speak words that build up the entire body, motivated by love. Healing is a work of the Spirit, but not the greatest!

Silence #3: Nothing Is to Become More Important Than the Cross (Silencing the Disciples)

The Examples

· Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They told Him, saying, ‘John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.’ And He continued by questioning them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And He warned them to tell no one about Him” (8:27-30). After this Jesus shares the purpose of His mission with the disciples (8:31).

· “As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead’” (Matthew 17:9//Mark 9:9). The heart of the Gospel, the cross and resurrection, had to occur before these stories of visions and miracles were to come to light.

Giving the Wrong Impression

“Christ” was a politically charged term in Jesus’ day, and He wanted to avoid the impression that He had come for political or military purposes. When Jesus was on the cross, they taunted Him, daring Him to fulfill their vision of the Christ: “this Christ, the King of Israel(Mark 15:32). While Jesus was, by rights, King, He did not come for that purpose. Deliverance of Israel from the rule of the Roman Empire would have done nothing to show the Jews God’s true nature, would not have saved the Gentiles, would not have saved us from our sins. Our wishes for the laws and culture to become Christian do not always serve God’s ultimate goal.

Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (10:42-45).

I hope these few thoughts about the three silences in Mark bring these verses into a unified focus. They all are commanded to keep the testimony legitimate, in proper perspective, and given the proper honor it deserves.

[1][1] Matthew 10:25; 12:24,27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15,18,19.