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Recently, I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark. I had decided I wanted to re-visit the words of Christ and not just the works of Christ. If there ever seems to be a time where we need more than a historical account of Jesus’ deeds and really need to hear the voice of the Spirit of God in our lives in a real and personal way, it seems to be now. I chose Mark’s version of the Gospel for no other reason than historically it’s considered the first written Gospel of the four books. Mark’s writings are interesting to me because he was the cousin of Barnabas, had traveled with Paul (actually was rejected by Paul as a ‘too immature’ missionary) and Luke, but more importantly, he was a true servant of Peter. Matthew begins with a genealogical expression of Christ and speaks uniquely to the Jewish community. Luke methodically moves through the Gospel just as you would expect a physician to move through it- practically and slowly diagnosing the life of Christ. John brings the theological argument for Jesus’ authority and mingles the types and shadows of the Promise to the Chosen people of Genesis forward. Mark, for his part, jumps right into the adult Christ, presenting Jesus in a way that confronts us with having to decide quickly who this man is. (Kind of a ‘CliffsNotes’ version.) I thought it might be interesting to review what the companion of Simon Peter wrote about the Christ. Peter’s view of Jesus was a mixture of a disciple’s passion and man’s weakness. Mark’s writing is as close to the Gospel of Peter as we can get: mouthy, sweaty, thick-headedness, denials and all. Peter was also the disciple that the risen Christ comforted immediately by telling those present to be sure to go tell Peter of His resurrection.
Most of my motivation to reconnect with a Gospel text is because of what Jane and I are currently experiencing every day of our lives. Without even going into this past year’s medical crisis, let’s just say that what we’ve experienced in our family and our friends’ and acquaintances’ lives have left us almost ‘speechless.’ There’re many situations where words are just not going to be enough, or at least our words are not going to be enough. The only words that are adequate and that can make a big difference are Christ’s words! Jane’s medical crisis, her sister’s health seriousness, my brother’s death, some of our dearest friends’ loved one’s failures or needs and what we hear from listeners just takes our breath away. The visual trauma and heart wrenching events during Jane’s recent health damage and her restoration were and are mingled with great inspiration as well. Those stories have been balanced with a strong reality of the Presence of God in Jane’s and my daily lives. While we physically ache for other people’s disappointments and broken moments, at the same time we’ve found Comfort from that Presence. The intimacy of crisis is not comparable to any other life experiences. Let me slow that down a bit. The intimacy of knowing the Love of God during crisis, the illuminations and manifestations of the things we’ve hoped for and prayed for years, can be discovered even during the most stressful events in our lives. When we need Him the most He is there the most. I’ve mentioned before, I’m not glorifying sickness or broken-heartedness. It is not God’s desire that we should or would suffer those things. His plan was the plan found in Eden, not the one Adam visited upon Eden and all generations since. But, with Adam’s lack of Wisdom came a Remedy and a Comforting that provides and prepares us for those horrible experiences. In the ‘times of Adam’ I’ll call them, it’s possible for our eyes to see deeply into our heart and soul. Many times we find not only what has been built, but find the very foundation our lives are built on. It’s critically important for each of us that we know our own hearts and not just what we think we are in our hearts. To go forward, to progress in Faith, we need to see the roadmap of our hearts, where are we really at about our Faith in Christ in the situation we find ourselves in. We have an old saying around our house, ‘you’ll find out what you have on the inside when your cup gets bumped.’
In Genesis, God was a companion. Today His desire is to be our companion and He’s provided a new Genesis in Christ Jesus. He is the only companion that can make the kind of difference that we all need in a time of trouble. All our conversations with each other can be drowned out by one quiet whisper of His Spirit. It’s amazing how we can’t seem to help ourselves even when the obvious things threaten us. How many times have we had logical, caring, reasonable conversations with those closest to us, only to have the thing we ‘most feared come upon us’. We are such a strange creature. We can define good and evil, know what we should do, but can’t seem to do it. Like Paul, we turn around and do the very thing we should not. That naturally creates all kinds of stress in us and those around us. It’s an old story, of course. In Genesis, there was a great darkness on the earth. God created a great light to shine on the darkness and darkness could no longer exist in the Light. There’s a great Darkness on the earth still. God created a Great Light to shine into the darkness and dispel that Darkness: Jesus. That Darkness blinds and is powerful enough to deceive. Strangely enough, the creature loves that Darkness. In our rebellion, our spirit Narcissism, we substitute our thinking and knowledge for His Wisdom, thinking we are our own light, we know the way to go, the thing to do. Surprise, surprise! there really is a way that seems right but leads to calamity. We end up simply just being too ashamed to Trust in His Love. Faithfully and thankfully, though blind, God has sent us Christ Jesus to give us sight, be a Lamp to us and show us the Way. Just as Nicodemus, we all come by way of Darkness to find the Son. In His still small voice we can hear and know His Presence. ‘No-thing’ can separate us from the Love of God and in great Joy and in crisis His words can flip the switch in our hearts.
Mark’s writings are so precise. In his telling of the first sermon of Jesus it takes Mark all of 17 words to ‘get’er out’! Mark just puts it out there and lets people do with the facts what they will. No frills! He was kind of a ‘cut to the chase’ kind of writer. Mark above all the other Gospel writers uses an economy of words to share the inherent power of Jesus’ words and actions. He did not embellish them; Mark simply boils the Message down: ‘it is time…the kingdom of God has come, you need to respond to that…repent! (Mark 1:15) Sermon over!
Appropriately, most of us have been pre-occupied with the terrible bombing of a Boston Patriot’s Day/Marathon Celebration. We live in perilous times for sure, and we must find a way to reconcile that with our assurance of the Spirit of God’s presence and live in the power and strength of His resurrection. It seems we’re just beginning to be enlightened to the necessity of having more than a list of rules, moralities, ethics or religious formulas to make it through times like these. Our Faith is not just about what is right, but more accurately, Who is Right.
The pressure in a world characterized by things such as the Boston bombings, political greed and corruption, immorality on many of our streets and simply the attitude of the culture’s desire to separate itself from the Love of God, will either wear us down or will, if received appropriately, nudge us toward God. An essential relationship we will need in order to survive the broken-heartedness of a broken world. Certainly, we live in a time when the contrast between good and evil, light and dark, (what might be called Kingdom against kingdom) is exposed and makes our choices more obvious. Each day it seems that we must choose between Life and life. God’s Wisdom has given us a way to overcome this ‘darkness’ but each of us will decide and determine whether we follow that Wisdom or go our own way. The majority will do exactly what was first done in the Garden of Eden, they will choose a way that leads to separation from the source of Life and choose the way that leads to an ordinary, chaotic man- generated life. It is our choice and no one escapes it. Since Genesis it’s the same story: believe and trust in the Truth, walk and talk with the Wisdom of God, or separate ourselves, go our own way and suffer the consequences of that choice. Not complicated, just a choice between being in the Light and stumbling around in the darkness. In spite of how incredibly smart and intelligent we are, the reality is that we are simply repeating Genesis each generation and each individual, suffering the consequence just as Adam and Eve did. Old, old story, same results. It’s like back to the future! There are no other choices in life, just simply choosing whether to embrace the darkness or to walk in the Light. Just as Nicodemus, each person comes in the darkness of midnight to find a new way, The Way that is the Light.
Now, and really always, we need the kind of relationship that will affect our lives not just a couple times a week, but will be a part of our work and our play. How do we live in a world that is rapidly moving away from God and moving eagerly toward ‘evil’? How do we live in a world growing increasingly hateful? How do we live in a time where, instead of someone or some group that could do some terrible deed that would affect the lives of a local few, now can do deeds that might ignite millions of people if not the whole world? What do we hang on to in ‘this present darkness’?
With all of our attempts at trying to be peaceful within this ‘darkness’, we’re discovering where our hearts are, what we’re really trusting in on the Journey. Welcoming that discovery of where we are in our hearts and mind is part of the enlightening to God’s purposes and plans for each of us. If nothing else, the pressure of living in this world will produce questions and searchings that can help find a new and deep understanding of the Love of God and the relationship He desires with each of us. Learning that we’re not in this alone, learning that He has a desire to be close, strengthen and guide us individually can be the reward of that pressure. We can embrace relationship or push it off, go our own way and do the best we can to cope in our own ability, or we can partnership with Wisdom. Will the pressure of today cause us to harden our hearts or will it gather us to a deeper relationship with God?
I’m sure we all, as believers, want to think we’ve arrived at being enlightened to God. Truth is, we never will arrive at having ‘complete Truth’; walking completely in the Light. If we’re not resistant to the presence of God, now is a chance to continue growing closer to Him by developing a closer and more tender relationship. It’s easy to be frustrated or discouraged in times like these, but we’re gifted Faith in order to overcome times like these. Paul talked of being the same in season and out of season. And while most of us believe in season is when everything is going well, when we are at our highest point of ‘good times’, actually, being in season is when we need Him the most. It’s when we are challenged by the world to the temptation to separate ourselves from the Love of God. The season of His presence in trouble can be the times of knowing Him most.
It was not God’s desire that we go through any of this! His idea of earth was described in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam. That kind of world, that kind of relationship, is the picture of His desire for us and in actuality we are discovering our way back to that. That’s the purpose of all this. He is wooing us back to that kind of intimacy in this generation and has hoped that for every generation. We’ve spoiled His Creation with our independence and love of the darkness. Now, in moments of hardship and independence we can discover the existence of a personal and close relationship with God, a restoration of the original kind of relationship of the Creation. (Jane and I would tell you that we did not find God’s manipulation in her health crisis, but rather found how deep the relationship, how rich the presence of God can be in the middle of crisis. Disaster is not the training ground of God, but it can be the location of our Trust and Hope, confirming and verifying His promise to us to never leave, never to forsake.
He that dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘my Refuge and my Fortress, my God in whom I Trust.’ For He will deliver me…Psalm 91
His promise is to those that dwell! Simply, those that ‘stay home’ in Christ will be blessed in Christ. That’s key to how we must live today. Staying home is to Trust in easy times and especially times of trouble. This present darkness is both a terrible thing for those that love the darkness and for those that hate it but have to stand in it as well. Darkness splashes. It soils the environment all round. It does rain on the just and the unjust but God has come to overcome that rain. Darkness is guaranteed and will be present in the absence of the Love of God. We should not be surprised when we see so much trouble; trouble is the default unless the Love of God is chosen. It may show up in a million different symptoms, but it shows up just the same. It’s a natural response to our separation from the offer of God’s Peace. I’m not shocked that this is where we find ourselves today; not overwhelmed either. In spite of it feeling terrible and even though we might even have the temptation to be discouraged, this is ‘in season’ for Believers, a time of more and more dependence on Him. Uncomfortable? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Tempted to fear? Yes. Overwhelmed? No! Knowing the Love of God, knowing it as a personal relationship, permits a dwelling place for us no matter what kind of pressure we experience. At the time the 91st Psalm was written, David was surrounded on every side, overwhelmed with insecure thoughts and physically threatened for his life, yet was able to write this last line: ‘When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him and show him my salvation’. That’s true even in our ‘present darkness’; be of good cheer, He has come to overcome in you!