Friday, December 15, 2006

Honour where it is due...

A word to my brothers and sisters at Christchurch St Ives in Sydney: You are blessed (in so many ways). Here is one:

The Apostle says: Pay to all what is owed to them: honor to whom honor is owed. I have just finished a subway ride listening to Nathan Walter’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 14 from last month. (For US friends: Wal succeeded me in being the pastor of evening church at St Ives in Sydney.)

The talk? Sensational! The bullseye was created for moments like this. He ‘rightly handled the Word of Truth’. He let the Word of Christ dwell in the congregation richly. It is rare to hear a talk with such clarity, humility and insight. And, of course, it raises more questions, which is the way it should be. (A talk should open doors, as well as close some). I gave a talk on this text maybe 3 years ago. Wal's was twice as clear, and twice as profound.

One of the best things about it was its balanced approach to tongue-speaking in church, and in the life of a believer. I think that he represents the Apostle’s words accurately. He didn’t react with either extreme on the matter, but rather said simply what the text said. Wal is a good man.

It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ word on Martin Luther:
"For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left."
Luther’s point: There is no point in falling off the horse one way, and then reacting by falling off in the exact opposite way. That merely indicates that one is intoxicated. The key is to stay upright on the horse. To stay where you are supposed to stay.

How is it that Wal almost always gets that right??

Make mental note: Listen to more of Wal’s sermons... (for my soul's sake)

Love, Justin.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grace

OK. We followed a blind person into the subway today. She lives in our apartment complex but we had never met her before. We were waiting near her for the train and she could hear The Boy beginning to have a meltdown. She is lovely. She announces that she is a music teacher and that she'd like to sing The Boy a song. Right there in the subway.

"What song should I sing him?" she asks.

My father has just taught The Boy a song that morning. So I suggest this song to our new friend. And she delightfully obliges. She has a strong voice, and people look around to enjoy her singing to our Boy.

Only after we changed trains did Laurel suggest to me that requesting "Three Blind Mice" was perhaps not a good idea.

Oops.

She was grace-filled. And kind. She sang about the mice, and then Jingle Bells, let The Boy touch her Braille New York Times and she gave us her details so that we could be in contact.

My first words to her will probably be one of apology. Although I suspect that she will say: "Think nothing of it."

Little moments of grace.

Love, Justin.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Win-Win

Can you believe that the concept of ‘Win-Win’ has a Wiki entry? Well, it does. It’s small. But it's there.

Here is win-win:

Justin’s parents (Mike and Nowell) live in Sydney. They want:

  1. To see their grandchildren face to face, instead of on Skype. And to bond with and to get to re-know them (Primary reason)
  2. To visit one of their offspring and offspring wife, and to give them a break (A close second)
  3. To enjoy Christmas time in New York (a distant, distant third, I’d say)

Justin and Laurel live in New York. They want:

  1. A break in the demands of parenthood (Laurel in particular -- who has the lion’s share)
  2. A chance to walk down 5th Ave in crowds without a stroller
  3. To go on a dinner date at a restaurant without asking about high-chairs
  4. To go to a movie
  5. To go to work guilt-free :) (Justin) or continue to study child-free (Laurel)
  6. To go skating in Central Park without worrying if the kids are permanently *gone* in the crowds
  7. Enjoy being with parents for the Christmas season in New York City

Now -- I’d call their visit, win-win.

Yes?

2 John V12: "Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete."

Laurel and Nowell at the Central Park Zoo. (Above)

The Boy discovers Static Electricity with Grandpa. (Above)

Laurel waving on the Wollman Rink in Central Park. (Above)

Love, Justin.

PS -- Now, a total win would be to have a White Christmas -- which is defined as an inch of snow covering the ground on Christmas morning. But Wiki tells me that that the: chances of a White Christmas are 10% in New York. Those are bad odds...

Barneys plan...

Barneys (in Sydney) burnt down in May this year. This is the building in which my faith was, in part, nurtured. I served there while at the University of Sydney and at Moore College. I wrote about the burning of that building HERE.

For those of you interested, HERE are the initial plans for a new building...

Love, Justin.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Psalm 104:24-26

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.

Last Sydney 2003 Scuba Dive 15 second video: HERE

I can't be sure that the rays are the same fish, but Steve Irwin's fate has made me rethink this experience!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Psalm 107:28-31, Genesis 1:20-21

My question is: How is this possible? Seriously...

How is this possible?




(All pics taken at a scuba dive at Manly Beach in Sydney in December 2003.)

For a 15 second video of a Blue Groper, Click HERE.

Psalm 107:28-31: Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!
For a 15 second video of me reaching out and touching the Groper: Click HERE

Genesis 1:20-21: And God said, "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens." So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Thats how it is possible.

Recapture the wonder, I say.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Habakkuk 2:14

I've been a little busy. Church is growing! If you can make sense of this: we had, yesterday, in the first Sunday in December, almost half the total amount of the whole of December in 2005 (including Christmas services). So that's good. That's growth. That's more people for us to visit. :) Of course, the harder growth is still happening: Maturity and growth in Jesus. To that end, this Saturday, we are having a 'Teach-In' for students (most of whom are at NYU). We are spending 3 hours in the Prophecy of Habakkuk. If it proves helpful, we'll make it something we do regularly. So keep that in your prayers.

But, since I have not as much time right now, I'm going to post some pics from a Scuba day I had off Manly Beach, in Sydney, in December 2003. I just found these videos on a CD today. Each day this week, I'll post some pictures, a video, and a verse from Scripture. There are four videos.

Here is today's 15 second video:HERE.

And here is today's verse: In reference to the Day when God will come to judge and vindicate:
Habakkuk 2:14: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Joy...

30 Second Video HERE.

Love, Justin.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lesson in Life: Never be afraid to throw a rock into a cave.

Sometimes I still cannot believe that a human being walked on the moon. Conspiracy theories aside, I sometimes stop myself and think: That is the most remarkable discovery coming out of the 20th Century. I was in utero when it happened. I assume that my mother, who was with twins, was deeply uncomfortable when she watched the grainy footage of Armstrong taking that step.

But here’s the thing: I reckon that something else is bigger. I think that the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls is more wondrous, more remarkable, and more significant than what you see in the pic above [I have made two friends here in NYC who may beg to differ: Space nuts, both of them. :)]

Why say this?

I just listened to THIS talk on my subway ride. Sensational. [Download the PowerPoint as well as the talk.]

If you know any interesting facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls, then please share them here in your comments.

Imagine, as the story goes, being a shepherd throwing a rock into a cave [1947] and finding Bible manuscripts that were 1000 years older than anything anyone had to work with up to that point. 1000 years older. And then finding that the translations we always had were incredibly accurate.

So, as I flip open and read Isaiah 53 again, I take delight in knowing that this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus is not made up by some monk-dude in the middle ages. When I read Psalm 145, I’m thrilled that we found the famous missing verse [‘The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works’.], and when Jesus sends proof to John the Baptist that he is the Messiah in Matthew 11, he offers a list of things in our Old Testament as indications of Messianic expectations: the blind see, the deaf hear, the good news is preached to the poor etc. All quotes from Isaiah. The one thing not in our bibles: that ‘the dead are raised’.

That bit, and the rest, was found by a kid who throws rocks.

Must teach that to the Boy.

Love, Justin.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Girl's First Birthday - Laurel Post

For birthday fun we had a breakfast picnic this morning (second breakfast to be precise) complete with bagels...

birthday cake...

and present...

The Girl was quite taken with her birthday cake at first, but then returned to her first love...the bagel.

We are so thankful to God for our sweet Girl. She is a joy and a delight. So we had a party with some of her her new New York friends. Spur of the moment, and organized this morning. Here is the pic: [including Simon and Clare from Sydney]

Love, Laurel

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Girl's First Word...

The Girl said her first word this morning at 6:30am. Clear as crystal, and right out of the blue. She stood up at her cot, desparate to get out, and said:

"Mummy."

Love, Justin.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Totally New York


This is the Boy and I and we are on the W Train coming from Astoria in Queens back into Manhattan. That’s a New York Post. A painful paper. But The Times is too big and too dense to read on subway. Trash is easier to read and easier to leave behind.

The Boy is more of a New Yorker than I am. He has spent nearly half his life here.
  • He can hail and stop a cab by himself [and he is good at it].
  • He pleads for Bagels.
  • One of his first words was "squirrel" [and that’s not easy for an adult to say]
  • He picks out the sound of a fire truck or an ambulance [at any time of day or night].
  • He knows when he goes into a subway that he will not be "out-side" for quite some time.
But he doesn’t yet know that minimising hand or mouth contact with anything in the subway is a good idea. But he is learning fast.

Love, Justin.

  • For points... can you tell me from the subway pic: who is that looking over my shoulder? It’s not Hitler.
  • And for extra points... can you tell me where the cab is in Manhattan? [New Yorkers ought not to answer this until Wednesday. Give the Non-New Yorkers a chance.]

Friday, October 20, 2006

Jamaican Me Crazy...


Tom (the US-born Australian) and Seapea (the Korean-born Canadian) both mentioned that they had to ‘toast’ or ‘salute’ the Queen when they become citizens of their particular domains of her Majesty. But you may have noticed that Australia does not require this. Laurel certainly didn’t have to toast, salute or pledge anything to the Queen.

It would appear that Australia is being confused with:

A. Jamaica...

Of course, being in Jamaica is just like being in The Cotswolds. Here is what you say to become a subject of the Queen of Jamaica:
I, [name], do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors according to law and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Jamaica and fulfil my duties as a citizen of Jamaica.
B. Or New Zealand...

New Zealand, as you know, is very close to England… a mere hop-skip-and-a swim across the ‘channel. To become a Kiwi, you say this:
I [name] swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand, Her heirs and successors according to law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen. So help me God.
C. Or Canada.

My question, that Seapea might be able to answer, is “do they say Oui to this pledge in Quebec?” [Peut il jamais ĂȘtre ainsi -- I don't know what that means, but it's the best I could do with Babelfish.com !]. To live in the “United Kingdom of Canada,” you must affirm this:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the Laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The sun appears to be setting...

Love, Justin.

PS Points for the location of the pic [Tom got almost all of the points last time].

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An Australian ‘Pledge' Vs an American ‘Oath'


Laurel become an Australian Citizen [dual, actually] June 30, 2005. She officially became a willing subject of her Majesty the Queen of England. Strange, isn’t it? [Let me answer that: Yes it is.]

All she had to do was sing Waltzing Matilda, drink a beer, and make this pledge **:
From this time forward, [under God], I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.

If I were ever to become a citizen of the US, I would have to take this Oath of citizenship:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
What do you think this says about the differences in our two countries?

Be kind. [Any unpatriotic statement will be naturally deleted by either me or the American.]

Love, Justin.

** That’s not true about Waltzing Matilda, by the way.

PS Name the town for points, and the statue for extra points. For even more points, name this town's two most famous preachers…

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

President Moffatt of the United States of America

US President Moffatt!


No. Not me, you’ll be pleased to know.
Our daughter, or our son:


You see, at 7:46 this morning, the US topped 300,000,000 people, or so they guessed.

299, 999, 998 ... without my contribution.

I am not American. The wife is. But we have begotten two little potential taxpayers for their economy; two soldiers for their armies; two servants of their churches; two citizens of their cities...

For years, I thought that the only thing the Boy and the Girl could never become is the Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States [POTUS]. You see, they were both born in Sydney, Australia. And I’ve always been led to believe that one had to be born on US soil in order to qualify for POTUS. Australia is not US Soil. Not at last count.

But I have just found out that they may in fact eligible. Or at least I think they are.

Article 2
of the US constitution says that the qualifications for POTUS are that they have to be a “natural born citizen” of the United States. But the uncertain question is: “what is a natural born citizen”? The US Constitution online lets me know that a “natural born citizen" is a number of things. But one is this:

(g) a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totalling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.

So The Boy/Girl are eligible for president; the wife is the citizen and I am definitely the alien.

That last part, I’ve pretty much always suspected.

Love, Justin.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Biblical Tourism

I don't know John. I haven't met him. And I probably will never meet him. John and his wife live and study in Atlanta... so we at least have that city in common. (My wife is from the great state of Georgia.)

But I think that John's post on reading the Old Testament texts (and especially via Ecclesiastes) is refreshing and worth reading:

(Re)Learning How to Read Scripture with Ecclesiastes

The post starts this way:

Describing the failure of modern preachers in critically engaging with the drama of the Hebrew Scriptures, Ellen Davis writes:

"Occasionally...a preacher may venture across that gulf [from the New to the Old Testament] and bring something back: a nugget, a small treasure, that is congenial with the gospel message and adds to it sparkle or depth of background."

I am convicted by this.

And also this:
We read these texts as if they were gift shops at the Vatican: browsing for a trinket, but only the one's that fit our luggage.
Worth a peak and a comment.

(John -- hope you don't mind.)

Justin.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Today’s Kosher Authors

This is a bit of fun. Please don’t take me seriously.

Have you noticed that some authors are more kosher than others? If a speaker quotes, alludes to or indicates that he or she is reading any of the following, you find a willing audience nodding and approving of whatever next thing they say. And it doesn’t matter who they are or what they believe: Quote these guys and one is considered ‘in’ and reasonable, thoughtful and a little [but not overly] academic.

This my list is in order of kosher-ness:

1. CS Lewis
2. JRR Tolkien
3. Frederick Buechner
4. Philip Yancey
5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
6. GK Chesterton
7. Brennan Manning

Are there any others? Should anyone come off the list? And are they in the right order?

Love, Justin.

PS I quote them all, by the way [as you see in the previous posts].

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Micheal Jensen is talking about YOU.

Thanks for letting me indulge with that last set of posts. Thanks for those who corresponded.

Michael Jensen and I were discussing yesterday that it’s harder to read and comment on content-based Blogs. You don't (and I don't) want to spend too much time reading, thinking and then commenting on a heavier Blog. That works for bloggers like Tim Challies and the Pyromaniacs. But for the rest of us: heavy content = less traffic.

But sometimes a Blog comes along where it’s good to read and comment - not just for its content (good), but for its outcome (a book).

So here is my commendation:

Read MPJ’s YOU Blog.
If you want to know why it’s important, Here is MPJ's plan.
And join the conversation late (don’t worry if you haven’t read the other posts).

And here is what to do:
  • Comment
  • Ask a question
  • Make a one-liner
  • Tell a story
  • Make a reference to a book, movie, song, poem or whatever
  • Be critical

Don't feel intimidated by MPJ’s brilliance -- it’s all smoke and mirrors, really! :) He really does want collaboration and feedback on his work.

Love, Justin.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Point 3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.


Reflection #3 on Mark 9:14-29
Read the introduction: HERE.
Questions, comments, helpful critiques are welcome.

I have three reflections from Mark 9:
1. Jesus enters our lives as they really are.
2. Jesus powerfully speaks to our terrors and pains.
3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.


3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.

Doubt is in vogue right now. We live in a post modern world. So interestingly, doubt has become easier than ever -- at least the expression of it. We hear of authors now saying that one of their 'strengths' is their 'capacity to doubt'. Buechner himself defends doubts as 'The ants in the pants of faith keeping faith awake and moving.' Christian leaders are now often saying the obvious truth: 'We don’t have all the answers'. Obviously! Doubt is what our society does best. And Christians want to resonate at this point.

Let me say straight up the doubt can be a horrible thing:

Os Guinness wrote:

“And underneath everything lies trust. From friendships of children to agreements among nations life depends on trust. Enjoying people is trust. Trust is the shared silence, the exchanged look, the expressive touch. Crying for help is trust, shaking hands is trust, a kiss is trust. The highest reaches of love and life depend on trust. Are there any questions more important to each of us than, ‘whom can I trust? How can I be sure’?

That is why when trust goes and doubt comes in such a shadow is cast, such a wound is opened, and such a hole is left. ... It is also why doubting God is so devastating.”

James warns against doubt. We ought not to be flippant about doubt. And we ought to know that when we entertain doubts, we are playing with fire.

So why is this Father treated with compassion? Why is his unbelief seemingly rewarded?

The Father has what I call faithful doubt. (Or even real faith in a real world).


Two things about faithful doubt:

A. Faithful doubt is paradoxically the only way that you can come to God.

What does this father do? He comes to Jesus in the first place with obvious helplessness. That’s what faith is. That’s trust. Trust coming to Jesus even in your unbelief. It's helplessness, not holiness that is the perquisite for coming to Jesus. That is good news. Faith is when you doubt yourself -- even your ability to believe. And go to Jesus anyway.

Faith is not - 'I’ve figured it all out'. 'Now I have faith in you Jesus'. 'Can I have my membership badge, now, please'? That’s not faith in God, that’s faith in yourself.

It is essential in becoming a Christian and staying a Christian that your frailty is right there next to your faith. Because then (and only then) do you depend on God.

It’s OK for me to 'light' on faith, if I come to God knowing he is 'heavy' on grace. Then, and only then, are you (paradoxically) really 'heavy' on faith.

Get that?

Its one the paradoxes of faith.

Christina Rossetti wrote a hymn -- rarely sung [we sang it at EU AnnCon at Sydney Uni] called "None other lamb". It goes:

My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart's desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to thee.

Lord, thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love's fire thou art, however cold I be:
Nor heav'n have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but thee.

'My faith burns low'. 'I may be dead'. 'I may be cold'. 'But my heart's desire cried out in me'. It is one of the few hymns that genuinely reflect this paradox of faithful doubt.

You see that this man has a prayer: (‘Prayer’ is the same word for ‘request’, even in old English --- ‘I pray you, come here’ is I request you come here.) He has a prayer (or a request) for Jesus: V22

“If you are able to do anything, have mercy on us and help us.”

That was all that was required. A prayer!

Why couldn’t the other disciples cast out the demon?

The answer is -- because they didn’t pray. They didn’t ask God. It's as simple as that.

V28 -- “Why couldn’t we cast the demon out?”
V29 -- “Because this kind only come out with prayer.”

The disciples were probably trying to do some sort of incantation thing?! When all they needed to do was pray. All they needed was to say: "God, help us."

In the Matthew account, Jesus said that all the disciples needed was the faith of a mustard seed. They could have done this AND moved a mountain ... all before lunch. Which -- I take it -- is a cheeky way of saying that the fact that they haven’t asked reflects that their faith is smaller than a malnourished piece of rice.

But this man apparently has the faith of a little mustard seed. And that’s all he has. And all he needed.

Because he seems to know intuitively that ‘this kind only comes out through prayer.’ That’s what he prays: “If you are able to do anything, have mercy on us and help us.”


The second thing to say about faithful doubt is this:

B. Faithful doubt always sides with faith.

Faithful doubt doesn’t side with the doubt. It sides with faith. Jesus says to the father's faithful request: V23

“'If you are able'. All things can be done for the one who believes.”
And the man says -- and again -- I think that the text is slowed up for us: Immediately -- the man -- he cries out -- the pain of this moment --
“I believe, help me my unbelief.”

I have belief, but I’m riddled with unbelief. But I’ll side with faith.

A good friend of mine says that this verse is a motto, and the man a hero. Because he believes and throws himself on Jesus in the midst of his unbelief... they are there -- belief and unbelief at the same time.' And we understand: Not on paper, but we totally get it in the heart.

He is doing what the Psalmists do -- They go to God in faith and tell him their doubts but instead of siding with the doubt, they side with faith. He is doing what the Prophets did: Men like Habakkuk who went to God to tell him their complaints. But instead of siding with the doubt, they side with faith.

Let me conclude:

  • I have questions that seem unanswered, but I'll side with faith. And I will hold onto the answers I do have.
  • I have objections that stump me, but I'll side with faith. I know that there smart men and women who have my same objections and still believe. I'll rely on their faith for a time, if I need to.
  • I have prayers that seem unheeded, but I'll side with faith. I trust that God knows what he is doing. I side with faith.
  • I can’t overcome a sin. But I trust that I am loved besides. I side with faith.
  • I see so much terror in the world. And I want to give up caring. But I know that God has some cosmic answer to the question of world suffering. And in the meantime, I try to bring peace where I am. I side with faith.

'Siding with faith' is the disciples to Jesus: In John 6, when a large group of people left Jesus because his teaching was 'too hard', Jesus said to them:

So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter
answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Tidy.

Here endeth the lesson. Hope you enjoyed...

Love, Justin.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Point 2. Jesus powerfully speaks to our terrors and pains.

(Pic: 'A displaced father holds his ill son at a clinic in Tawila, North Darfur'. It is a difficult picture to post. But it may help to provide some gravitas in capturing something of what the father in our story may have felt.)

Reflection #2 on Mark 9:14-29
Read the introduction: HERE.
Questions, comments, helpful critiques are welcome.

I have three reflections from Mark 9:

1. Jesus enters our lives as they really are.
2. Jesus powerfully speaks to our terrors and pains.
3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.


2. Jesus powerfully speaks to our terrors and pains.

Jesus comes down from the mountain and finds a crowd arguing. What are they arguing about?

(V17) Someone from the crowd speaks up. We find out that this man’s only son has been literally gripped with terror. His household has been seized by this torment for years. This man has come, in faith, to Jesus. This would have been OK... except that he couldn’t find Jesus because Jesus was being transfigured up the high mountain. And his disciples (v18) don’t seem to be much help.

V17-18 tells us about the son’s terror. He has been attacked and overpowered by an unclean spirit in such a way that his whole body was seized (V18). A spirit has taken residence since he was a boy (V21). And the unclean spirit seeks his -- and his families -- total destruction. (V22)

Let me say this: I have never seen demon possession manifested the way that they are in the Gospels. I know some who tell me that they have. I do believe this account to be completely accurate.

However, I also want to say that even though I haven’t experienced or seen the terror of this kind of demon possession, I know that demon possession in the Bible represents something bigger than demon possession in itself.

An unclean spirit represents at least two things:

First, it represents the kind of evil and pain and terror that exists in this broken world. (As with this boy, so with the world).

Second, it represents being unacceptable and untouchable. The spirit is described as ‘unclean’ (as they almost always are in the New Testament). That is, the boy is unacceptable. Untouchable. Unwanted, in that world, by both by God and by society.

So while I have not seen manifest demon possession like this, I do know -- you know -- you may know right now -- the stranglehold of pain -- suffering -- and terror in your world and the deep and painful knowledge that one is unacceptable and untouchable to God.

You may feel the stranglehold of suffering for yourself. Or like this father, you may feel it for a son or a daughter who is bearing something that you feel is too difficult for them right now. Or you may feel the weight of terror and evil in our world. I feel it whenever I read about genocide in the Darfur Region of the Sudan.

It is funny that we struggle to believe in demon possession in a world in which genocide can exist. I find that short sighted. Yes?

What does Jesus do?

Jesus speaks to the terror. He rebukes the unclean Spirit. (V25):

“Come out and never enter him again.”

Jesus is giving a 'Kingdom snapshot' here. Jesus came to deal with terror and evil and suffering. And the unclean spirit leaves the boy with convulsion. But then in V26, the text becomes all deliberate. The text slows up here.

The boy was ‘like a corpse’, so that most of them said: “He is dead.”

We are being given a glimpse, as it were, of death...

It looks bad. But Jesus (V27) then touches the untouchable, the unclean, the dead boy. And in his touch, he ‘lifts him up’ -- the original word is he ‘raised him up’. The implication is that the boy is being raised from the (apparent) dead -- and the boy had ‘the power to stand’.

Here is a glimpse of resurrection.... resurrection beyond death.

We won’t go into it now. But I think that what’s being alluded to by Mark is this: Jesus speaks to the unclean Spirit to get out. That’s Jesus’ mission: to restore a broken and terror filled world; to tell evil to ‘take a hike’.

But what will this victory look like? How will it be secured?

It will look bad for a time, but then there’ll be a lifting up: a Resurrection. Jesus is saying: It’s by death that evil is dealt with. And by the work of Resurrection we have ‘the power to stand’ free from that evil.

And we therefore need to be patient while we witness evil and terror. Christ’s death has secured evil’s departure and Christ’s Resurrection assures us of its eventual removal.But in the meantime, we choose faith.

What will that faith look like?

Tomorrow...

Love, Justin.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Point 1. Jesus enters our lives as they really are.


The picture is dawn from Mount Sinai.

For this week, I am continuing my post on my sermon for this last Sunday. Just for fun. So if you’ve joined in today, then read the text: Mark 9:14-29 [The story of the Father whose son has been gripped by terror.] And read the introduction: HERE.

I have but three reflections from Mark 9:

1. Jesus enters our lives as they really are.
2. Jesus powerfully speaks to our terrors and pains.
3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.

Today, I give you Reflection #1. Questions, comments, helpful critiques are welcome. [Thanks Rhea!]

1. Jesus enters our lives as they really are: Confused and complex and messy.

Look at V 14-16

What’s happening here? Jesus is entering an already existing moment. He is gate-crashing an argument. And the argument has been going on for enough time for Mark to note that a crowd has gathered. V14. ‘A great crowd’, in fact. And like many who wonder into a conversation, he says: V16 -- “What’s the argument about?” I’m up for debate. I’d like to know what’s going on.

In my research this week, I realized something that I’d not seen before: Mark places two events deliberately together: the transfiguration of Jesus and the story of the torment of this father. They are being overlapped. [Luke records that is was the next day, whereas Mark and Matthew more deliberately overlap the events.]

Here is what I think is happening: One extraordinary thing is happening up on a high mountain. And at the same time, one ordinary thing is happening at the foot of the mountain.

First, one extraordinary thing is up on a high mountain: Jesus is transfigured [in the preceding verses] on a high mountain, enveloped in a cloud, and declared with roaring approval to be God’s beloved Son. Does that sound similar to what happened up on Mt Sinai in Exodus 19?

Here is a thought about the transfiguration: You might be cynical. You may be tempted to think of Jesus as simply an historical figure that launched a thousand bumper stickers; or a pathetic figure that inspired a million bad worship songs; or worse- The figure head of the 50 million ‘militant’ evangelicals. The transfiguration will not let you keep your cynicism. In the transfiguration, we are invited to see what our senses may not tell us: that Jesus is God’s glorious Messiah. And if you met him today as he really is, you may be flattened by his glory.

One extraordinary thing is happening on the mountain.

And one very ordinary argument is happening down at the foot of the Mountain. Just like Israel at Mt Sinai, what happens on mountain tops does not always concur with life in the valleys and streets of my real life. What happens in Exodus? The people are at the foot of the mountain arguing with leaders, whining about ‘their lot in life’, and making golden calves.

You see what is happening in Mark 9? Overlapping the truth [that Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth] is life at the foot of the mountain [A man enduring pain and suffering, and a bunch of people fighting and arguing about it.]

And Jesus comes right into that moment and asks:

"What are you arguing about?"
“Let me in on that argument.”
“Let me into your real life.”
“What’s the debate going on in your head?
“What’s the debate going on in your communities?”
“Let me speak to it.”

2nd Reflection tomorrow...

Love, Justin.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sermon Introduction: “I believe, help my unbelief.”


For the next week, I shall be posting my sermon for this last sunday. Today, the introduction. Questions, comments, helpful critiques are welcome. Read the text first: Mark 9:14-29

Here goes:

--- Frederick Buechner wrote a book about preaching called: Telling the Truth: Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairytale. In it he writes about how our lives are real and complex and difficult and sometimes disturbing. And Buechner maintains that in our gospel telling, we need to know and feel and to speak to the weight of those real and complex lives.

Buechner imagines a church service thus:

“The preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit with his sermon in his hand. He hikes his black robe at the knee so he will not trip over it. His mouth is a little dry. He has cut himself shaving. He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor. If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else.

“In the front pews someone turns up a hearing aid, and a young lady slips her six year old a lifesaver and a magic marker. A college sophomore is there, home for vacation because he was dragged there, and he slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice that week has seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail.

“The preacher deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely. But at this minute in the silence he has them in the palm of his hand.

“Who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them?”

Says Buechner: “Let him tell them the truth.”

Let him tell Gospel truth.

Today is such a passage:

In this passage, we are met in all our unique complexity and frailty. We are met by Jesus and his wonderful Gospel.

And we hear perhaps one of the most important exchanges in the Bible. An exchange that could shape the nature of your faith for years to come:
V.24: “I believe, help my unbelief.”
V 24.. Now there is a sentence that appears contradictory. It makes no sense on paper. But make total sense in the heart.

I have but three humble reflections from Mark 9:

1. Jesus enters our lives as they really are: confused and complex.
2. Jesus powerfully speaks to our terrors and pains.
3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.

More to come... One point per post, in fact...

Love, Justin.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I believe; help my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24


I’m speaking this Sunday at church on Mark 9:14-29, in which a father in a crowd (whose son has been engulfed by terror), says this to Jesus:

"But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"”

I call that a significant moment in the gospels…

I enjoyed this reflection today on 'Doubt' from Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking.

“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that this is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving.

There are two principal kinds of doubt, one of the head and the other of the stomach.
In my head there is almost nothing I can’t doubt when the fit is upon me – the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the sacraments, the significance of the church, the existence of God. But even when I am at my most skeptical, I go on with my life as thought nothing untoward has happened.

I have never experienced stomach doubt, but I think Jesus did. When he cried out: “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me!” I don’t think he was raising a theological issue any more than he was quoting Psalm 22. I think he had looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed him. I think God allows that kind of darkness to happen only to his saints. The rest of us aren’t up to doubting that way – or maybe believing that way either.

When our faith is strongest, we believe with our hearts as well as with our heads, but only at a few rare moments, I think, do we feel in our stomachs what it must be like to be engulfed by light.”
Love, Justin.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Love doesn't sustain marriage. Marriage sustains Love"

In May 1943, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to a young bride and groom, advising them on the nature of the union they were about to enter:

"Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal — it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."

A further reflection on Bonhoeffer's quote is in this Washington Post Op-Ed piece : “Marriage was a status we graduated into, and it was bigger than we were. It defined us, and not the other way around. Now we seem to be losing the institutional imperatives of marriage, leaving only the private relationship -- and that is increasingly likely to turn on such things as personal satisfaction.” (If its a match between Bonhoeffer and Bruce Willis, I choose Bonhoeffer.)

So, my question is this: Have the following words any power under God to save a marriage?

...to have and to hold
From this day forward,
For better or worse,
For richer or poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
Until we are parted by death.
This is my solemn vow and promise.”

Love, Justin.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Message to Martha 2



Dear Martha,

From Marlene – POD – Picture of the Day. Here I am on the playground with The Boy and the Girl.

I've toured the East Village, had breakfast at Gramercy Park, shopped at the Farmer's market at Union Square, walked around the square where Harry met with Sally, went to church with Justin and Laurel, and watched a couple of chick flicks with Laurel. I’ve had NY cuisine every day so far: pretzels from a stand, lox and bagels from a Kosher store and tomorrow… Dunkin’ Donuts, Baby.

As they say… wish you were here.

Love, Marlene.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The new 'Company Talk'

Churches used to talk all the time about removing jargon from our language. This was ‘company talk’, and those looking to join the company didn’t know the lingo. So words had to be explained or avoided.

So we worked hard at not using words like ‘sin’, ‘righteousness’, ‘judgment’ and ‘atonement’. These words needed to be avoided or explained. Interestingly, you could freely use words like ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘hope’. I’m not sure whether jargon was the problem, so much as fear of confrontation.

Hmmm.

Anyway, times have moved on. And the company is not quite the same as it was. So, I give you now the new company jargon. I've picked up many of these in this last year.

  • Missional
  • Worshipful
  • Emergent
  • Emerging
  • Lead Pastor
  • Wholeness
  • Wellness
  • Healthful
  • Conversant with...

I don't know what half of these words mean, and I work here.

Love, Justin.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Message to Martha


Dear Martha,

Marlene would like to send to you her POD ... Picture of the Day.

For all my other readers (i.e. Not-Martha), Marlene is Laurel's good buddy from Atlanta days, and also shares a house with Martha in CA. She is here to visit this fair city.

Love, Justin.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

11th of September.

When Laurel and I first took up residence at our apartment, we had a 'debate' about whether or not the view from our apartment looked on downtown NYC. I said 'no'. She said 'yes'. Anyway, after I apologised (she was right) we began to speculate whether, on September 11 2001, a previous tenant could have viewed the demise of the Twin Towers from our apartment. Tonight, we found out. These beams of light are confirmation that the Towers were a companion of previous residents. This photo was taken 10 minutes ago from a window in our apartment.

The four of us were downtown by 8:46am. We came up out of the ‘4’ Express Train at Wall St at 8:30am. Laurel remarked that if we were working that day, we would have made it to our desk by 8:46am. A sobering thought. There was not much to see today. There were a lot of people. The value of being there from my perspective was to pray with some gravitas about the world that we live in. I found these thoughts to be helpful for me tonight.


We spent some time at a playground near the WTC site (Pic of The Girl). We enjoyed spending time with a friend called Heidi. Heidi was there on September 11th. She had only just settled from Germany one week before the attacks. She said that she reminds herself to be thankful to God that these events drew her to Jesus. She needed answers after 9/11, and found them in Christ. I have had lot of conversations with people who were downtown that day and came out with their lives spared.

The Boy doesn't yet get the concept of a minute’s silence. Quite frankly, he doesn't get the concept of silence. The only book that we took with us to ground Zero was the Bible (Thank you to Chris and Emma Jonker). So Laurel read to The Boy the story of Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41). How incredibly appropriate. Smart woman, my wife. To paraphrase the disciples: "Who is this, that even terror and evil are docile before his voice?" Guess who the Boy is pointing to?

A day of reflection.

Love, Justin.