Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mark 3:13-19

The Gospel of Mark: 
Part 11
“Expanding the Scope of His Ministry”

3 August 2014         The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost         
Year A: Color: Green  

First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalter UMH 749 Psalm 17; 
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5 *Gospel Mark 3:13-19 (alt. rd.) 

First Light Reading Mark 3:13-19

Originally preached at Pleasant Hill Parish 23 December 2004


According to the writings of the New Testament, by the time of his death and resurrection, Jesus had about 500 followers.  Out of these 500 followers, Jesus choose 12 of them to be a part of inner circle, to be his closest disciples.  These 12 were invited to share life with the Master and to be with him as his constant companions.  

The number 12 was a historically meaningful number for Jesus people and for their nation.  Israel was comprised of 12 tribes of closely related people, who all shared a common ancestry and heritage.  Twelve was the number of Israel.  It symbolically reminded the Hebrew people who they were.  By choosing 12 disciples to be his core followers, Jesus was communicating that Israel was being restored.

The calling of the twelve disciples had yet another meaning.  Jesus purpose in calling the twelve was to expand his ministry, so that not only would Israel be restored; so would all of creation.  Jesus’ own ministry was about expanding the Kingdom or Reign of God throughout creation.  The 12 disciples were being invited to become a part of that plan, to multiply the work of Christ.  

The value for us, of looking closely at the work and lives of the twelve followers of Jesus, is that we, as part of God’s people, are called to carry on their work.  We take up were they and others who have gone before us left off.  We too have been invited to be a part of Christ’s work of expanding the Reign of God and thus multiplying the work of Jesus.  We too are called to be disciples.  So, this morning, I want us to look at what that means by looking carefully at the work and lives of Jesus’ original 12 disciples.  

I.  The unique task of the disciples is to be with Jesus.  

Their ministry flowed out of their identity and their identity flowed out of their relationship with God.  If we want to really understand both our purpose and our true identity we must spend time with God.  Our point of reference must stay constant and all of life must revolve around the person of Jesus.   

Now I want to be really careful here.  The twelve original disciples were not super saints who floated about 2 inches off the ground. Neither were people of privilege, who had the luxury of following Jesus, because they had not a care in the world.  Most of these men came from very humble backgrounds.  A few of them were business owners, most were hired hands.   They were regular people who were following Jesus the best they could, in spite of not having the luxury to do so. 

Let me say it another way, be telling you a story.  My father grew up in the sixties.  When I was a kid, I became fascinated by hippies and the counter-culture.  One day I asked my father if he had been a hippie.  His answer surprised me.  “No,” he said.  “My family was far to poor for me to be a hippie.  I had to work.”  He went on to say that every hippie he knew was someone who had rich parents, who paid for their college tuition, bought them a car, and paid for their living expenses, so that thy could go around singing, “All you need is love.”  

I’m afraid that my father’s view of the counter-culture is who many of us view being a disciple of Jesus.  It’s a fine thing to do for people who have no worries and responsibilities.  And perhaps you even imagine yourself being a disciple someday when the kids are grown and the house is paid for and you no longer have so many responsibilities to oversee.  When you finally get enough time and financial security, whenever life finally settles down and you get enough time to think and breath, then you will finally have the luxury to consider getting serious about spiritual matters, like following Jesus.

If this is how we think about discipleship, we have it all wrong.  The real dangers to our spiritual-life is not hardship but comfort.  In his book The Comfort Trap: Spiritual Dangers in the Convenience Culture, Tim Bascom writes, 

We're too comfortable to be spiritual…. We think we will be able to pursue God better without danger or hardship. And yet it works in just the opposite way. Nothing is more difficult than to grow spiritually when [we are] comfortable.
That's why … Alexander Solzhenitsyn's reaction to his exile to the Soviet labor camp was to bless it, because it was there that he discovered that "the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.” In the worst possible circumstances of hardship, deprivation, brutality, and inhuman treatment, Solzhenitsyn learned what it meant to follow Christ. 

Citation: Tim Bascom, The Comfort Trap: Spiritual Dangers in the Convenience Culture (Intervarsity, 1993); submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California

II.  The symbol of discipleship is not a throne and crown, but a towel and basin.
Whatever else being the right hand men of Jesus meant, it did not mean a life of worldly privilege as miniature kings of God’s kingdom.   
One person who really understood this was Basil of Ceasarea. In 370 A. D., Basil of Caesarea, one of the "church fathers," became the archbishop of Caesarea, which brought him into conflict with the Arian emperor Valens. In an attempt to intimidate the stubborn bishop, Valens sent the prefect of the imperial guard, Modestus, to threaten him with punishment. Basil answered that he was ready and eager to die for Christ, and that he had so few possessions that banishment, confiscation, or imprisonment would mean nothing to him.
When Modestus complained that no one ever talked to him like that, Basil answered that perhaps he had never met a bishop before: "When the interests of God are at stake, we care for nothing else."
Citation: Edwin Woodruff Tait, "Three Wise Men from the East," Christian History, Issue 80

Following Jesus does not give us an exemption from troubles, sorrow, and inconveniences.  We have been called to the trenches.  We are soldiers in the Lord’s army and our fight is against oppression and suffering, sorrow and death, and all the forces of evil that seek to dehumanize and enslave the people of this world.

One morning, near the turn of the 20th century, Bramwell Booth visited his elderly father, William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. The elder Booth didn't even say "good morning" to his son.
"Bramwell!" he cried, when he caught sight of me, "did you know that men slept out all night on the bridges?" He had arrived in London very late the night before from some town in the south of England and had to cross the city to reach his home. What he had seen on that midnight return accounted for this morning tornado of emotions. Did I know that men slept out all night on the bridges?
"Well, yes," I replied, "a lot of poor fellows, I suppose, do that."
"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing for them," he went on, vehemently.
I began to speak of the difficulties, burdened, as we were already, of taking up all sorts of Poor Law work, and so forth. My father stopped me….
"Go and do something!" he said. "We must do something."
"What can we do?"
"Get them shelter."
"That will cost money."
"Well, that is your affair. Something must be done. Get hold of a warehouse and warm it, and find something to cover them. But mind, Bramwell, no coddling!" 
That was the beginning of The Salvation Army Shelters."

Citation: "Did You Know Men Slept on the Bridges?" Christian History & Biography, issue 82; submitted by Kevin Miller, Carol Stream, Illinois

The members of the Salvation Army Church, laity and clergy alike have been in the trenches fighting the good fight, following in the footsteps of the original twelve, helping the poor, rescuing the perishing, nursing the sick, and fighting addiction.  

II.  Expanding the Reign of God is not an assignment for the weak-of-heart.

Fighting the forces of evil meant taking hits and acquiring scars.  The Apostle Paul knew this. 

2corinthians 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh

Our enemy is the great satan is a defeated enemy but not one that has yet conceded the battle.  

David Garland writes that this idea might be compared to the Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler made one last desperate gamble and three all of his forces into battle to try to halt the Allie’s advance after the successful invasion of Europe-The arrival of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus is only the beginning of the end for evil powers.

The fact that evil is still at work in the world means we will have to be very persistent in the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  

In standardized math tests, Japanese children consistently score higher than their American counterparts. While some assume that a natural proclivity toward mathematics is the primary difference, researchers have discovered that it may have more to do with effort than ability. In one study involving first graders, students were given a difficult puzzle to solve. The researchers weren't interested in whether or not the children could solve the puzzle; they simply wanted to see how long they would try before giving up. The American children lasted, on average, 9.47 minutes. The Japanese children lasted 13.93 minutes. In other words, the Japanese children tried 47 percent longer. Is it any wonder that they score higher on math exams? Researchers concluded that the difference in math scores might have less to do with intelligence quotient and more to do with persistence quotient. The Japanese first graders simply tried harder.

That study not only explains the difference in standardized math scores; the implications are true no matter where you turn. It doesn't matter whether it's athletics or academics, music or math. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. Success is a derivative of persistence.

Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker (Zondervan, 2011), pp. 134-135
Luke 18 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
The parable of the persistent widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’
And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
Galatians 6:9New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Mark 3:13-19 Podcast


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mark - A New Exodus

The Gospel of Mark:
 An Invitation to Follow Jesus
Part 2

“The New Exodus”

Malachi was one of the Old Testament prophets.  His message was about the returning of the Lord; his mission was to prepare the people for the day of that return, when God would again dwell among his people as their rightful King.  The prophet Malachi foretold that just before the return of Yahweh, a prophet like Elijah would come to call the people to repentance. Mark tells us that this prophet’s name was John the baptizer.  He proclaimed a message of baptism for the repentance of sins.   

A good summary of John’s message would be: God is coming, and you’re not ready.  The people of God are going in the wrong direction.  In order to be ready for the return of the Lord, each man, women, and child must do an about-face, so that they are moving in the right direction.  There are certain kinds of behaviors that will blind us to the Lord’s arrival.  There are certain kinds of behaviors that will keep us unprepared for Yahweh’s return. 

But, there are other kinds of behavior that are suitable to repentance.  They force us to open our eyes and heart to things of God.  Among the things that John called on the people to do, in order to get ready, was to receive baptism as a sign of their willingness to turn from sin and turn to God.  

Jesus’ message was the same as John's message.  The Scriptures continue say,  “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” - Mark 1:14-15

So closely tied to John’s ministry was Jesus’ ministry that not only were both messages nearly identical, but both featured baptism as a key part of their prophetic ministry.  In fact, Jesus’ ministry properly begins with Jesus’ baptism by John the baptizer.
The fourth century Church Father, Gregory Nazianzen said: “He had no need to be purified by baptism-his purpose was to hallow it.”  That is to show publicly how important he thought it was.”   (Page 11 ACC, NT Volume II)

The third century Church Father, Cyprian said: “The Lord was baptized by his servant  The holy One who was destined to grant remission of sins did not himself disdain to submit his body to be cleansed with the water of regeneration.” (page 5 ACC, NT Volume II)

In other words, Jesus agreed with John.  There were some things God’s people had to do if they wanted to be ready for the Lord’s return.  But this raises the question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?  If he was sinless and nothing to repent of, why did he need to be baptized?  Surely, there has to be more to it than Jesus simply endorsing John’s ministry. Jesus would not need to be baptized in order to simply put his stamp of approval upon John's ministry and message.  He would not have had to have been baptized in order to that.  The Apostle Paul gives us a fuller explanation.  

He tells us that the key to understanding Jesus’ baptism and our own is the story found in the Old Testament book of Exodus.  The book of Exodus tells us the story of how God set his people free from slavery in Egypt, so that they might free to serve the Lord.  Only this time, the slavery was to sin and death, not the human rulers of some foreign country.  

The cost of freedom would not be innocent lambs, whose blood would mark out God’s people for redemption.  The cost of our freedom was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The price of freedom from Egypt was the firstborn of every house of Egypt.  The price for our freedom was God’s firstborn and only Son, Jesus.  

This story, the one told in the book of Exodus is the key to understanding the story of Jesus’ baptism and our own.  Those who do not like the Old Testament, who want to stick only with New Testament, leave themselves without the interpretive key for understanding it.  So Paul provides the key to understanding why it was that Jesus allowed himself to be baptized.  

In 1 Corinthians 10, we read:  “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

This passage takes a little unpacking.  Paul says, “Our ancestors,” speaking of the Hebrew people who were set free from slavery in Egypt.  “They were all under the cloud.”  You might remember that God appeared to the people as a pillar of fire by night, and a great pillar of cloud by day.  That is, God himself led his people.  He then says, “and..they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

Again, you may remember that after the people had been set free from slavery, they began to make their way to the Promised Land.  But, just as they were on the border of Egypt, Pharaoh decided that he would not let them go, after all.  He trapped them at the edge of the Red Sea.  But, God parted the waters and Moses led them through on dry ground.  God provided a way where there was no way.  

Paul then goes on to remind his readers of how God stayed with the people, providing for their needs and caring for them.  Still, many of these people, though outwardly liberated, were still in bondage in their hearts.  They had been set free from slavery, yet their hearts were still in Egypt.  Evil darkened their minds and hearts, and God judged many of them, because loved wickedness and darkness rather than light. 

So here is how that relates to today’s passage.  According to John the Baptist and Jesus, the world and its people are under the heavy hand of slave-master far crueler than Pharaoh.  Sin and death have made slaves of every one of us.  And, Jesus is the new Moses, who has come to set the people free.  Baptism is to us what crossing the Red Sea was to the ancient Hebrews.  It is the way out of slavery.  

And so, Jesus had to be baptized; not because he had sin.  He had to be baptized for the same reason that Moses had to cross the Red Sea; because he could not lead his people anywhere he himself was not willing to go.   

If you ever flip through the back of the United Methodist Hymnal, you will find that there are other affirmations of faith, besides the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.  Many of them are pretty good.  My main reason for not using them is that they don’t carry the same weight and authority as the three Ecumenical Creeds.  But, many of them are helpful because they give us a fresh articulation of the faith.  

One of these modern affirmations is The Statement of Faith the United Church of Canada.  Toward the end of that statement of faith it says, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God.”

That’s why the book of Hebrews calls Jesus the Pioneer of our faith.  Jesus never ask us to go anywhere or to face anything that he himself was not willing to face.  

Hebrews 2:9-11 says
New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it fitted that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Jesus message was essentially the same as John’s.  He came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had drawn near and that people needed to ready themselves for God’s approach.  The Lord has returned to set his people free from sin and death.  He has come to lead us into the Promised Land.  That is why Jesus was baptized.  

Like so much of Mark’s Gospel, Mark does not tell us that Jesus’ message was like John’s message just for the sake of noting something curious.  He is telling us that Jesus’ message was the same as John’s because both require a response.  Will we hear what God says to us, or will we turn a deaf ear?

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "turn a blind eye," which means to ignore undesirable information. The saying comes from a 19th century British naval battle. On April 2, 1801, during the Battle of Copenhagen, the British fleet was attacking the combined navies of Denmark and Norway. Three British ships ran aground, so the admiral, Hyde Parker, decided that the fire of battle was "too hot for Nelson to oppose." So Parker sent an order, through signal flags that the younger admiral Horatio Nelson should "Discontinue Action" and withdraw.

When Nelson heard his signalman relay the order, he pretended not to hear him. Mesmerized by the thrill of battle, Nelson had no intention of obeying the order. He turned to his captain and said, "This day may be the last for us at any moment," even as a Danish cannonball struck his ship's mainmast, scattering splinters all around him. This reaction was typical of Nelson's stubborn and aggressive approach to war. In fact, he'd already lost sight in his right eye in a previous battle. So  the when he pressed again to respond to Parker's order, Nelson told his flag captain Thomas Foley, "You know, Foley, I only have one eye—I have the right to be blind sometimes," and then Nelson held up his telescope to his right eye and said, "I really do not see the signal!"

Sometimes we are all like Nelson, with one good eye and one blind eye, and when an order comes through from God, we hold up the telescope to the blind eye. As a result, we willfully ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois; source: Christopher Hibbert, Nelson: A Personal History (Basic Books, 1994), pp. 260-261

Mark A New Exodus Podcast


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gospel of Mark 1 Podcast


The Gospel of Mark 1

There are four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament. Each of these accounts is a little different in its focus, but the purpose of each is the same. These four accounts, called Gospels, were written to introduce people to Jesus. Of these four Gospels, Mark is the shortest, and many scholars think, the oldest. 

This morning we are starting our series through the book of Mark.  Mark’s Gospel is a fast moving, almost breath-taking, telling of the life of Jesus.  But, in a short amount of space, Mark has quite a message to tell.  I want to give an overview this morning, as we explore this question: “Who does Mark think that Jesus is?”  

To begin unpacking this answer, we need to do a little background work.  And, it all starts with a very messy divorce.  Those of you who have been through a divorce know that the experience can be devastating.  The emotional and spiritual scars can last for years.  

The divorce I’m talking about was the one between God and his people. Many centuries before the coming of Christ, YHWH, the Lord, God, had chosen the Hebrew people to be his elect or chosen people. He had given them The Promised Land and richly blessed them with many good things. Best of all, God dwelled in their midst. His glory filled the Temple in Jerusalem. The Lord was their God, and the Jews were his people.

Sadly, many things had gone wrong since then. Their love for God had grown cold. Their attitude toward God had soured. They had become a stubborn and rebellious people and refused to turn from their sins and follow God. Ezekiel chapter 10 tells the story of God finally moving out and leaving.

He had wanted to stay. He had wanted to make things work. But, sometimes things cannot be repaired and made right. Through their actions and words, the people had told God to get out. So, with great sadness and reluctance, God packed his things and left. He simply couldn’t stay with the way things were. The last straw was when the priests started bringing their pagan gods into the Temple, which was akin to someone’s spouse inviting his or her illicit lover to move in. The spiritual adultery was being done out in the open. God refused to stay.  He refused to act as if everything was all right.

The years that followed were terrible years for Israel as the people wrecked their nation and their lives with sin. Judgement fell upon the land, with enemy hordes invading, burning buildings, razing homes, and enslaving the people. Finally, the Temple, which had been God’s dwelling place, was destroyed.

By the end of the year 586 B.C., it looked as if the story of God’s people would end in tears and ashes. But, even in the bleakest hours, the Prophets of God foretold of a great hope. Eventually, the people would be set free to return to their homeland. There, they would rebuild their lives and their nation. They would also rebuild the Temple. YHWH would then return in glory, to dwell in the midst of his people, again. He would renew his covenant with the people and give them new hearts.

How would the people know when God was about to return?  Just before the Lord’s return in glory, God would send a mighty prophet, who, like the great prophet Elijah, would announce to the people that God was King. 

The very first thing Mark tells us about Jesus is that his coming is the fulfillment of this promise. Mark says,

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way’ –

‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.”’

 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  

Mark is making a very radical announcement about God and the promises God had made to his people.  He starts by saying, “As it is written in Isaiah.”  Actually, Mark quotes two prophets, Malachi and Isaiah, but, he is following the usual Jewish practice of citing the most prominent of two, which is Isaiah. Both quotations are about God promising to return to his people.  Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3 are both about God, Yahweh, the Lord returning to renew the covenant.   

Before the return of the Lord, the prophets foretold, there would be a mighty prophet, like Elijah, who would come to prepare the hearts of the people. That was John the Baptist. John brought so much energy and caused such a commotion that people were still talking about him 200 years later. Some even thought that he might be the Messiah. God sent him to turn the hearts the of the people back to the Lord.

But, these two passages, from Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3, not only foretell of a great prophet like Elijah, but also of the Lord’s return to his people. Mark is telling us that both promises were kept. John the baptizer was the mighty prophet, who came in the spirit of Elijah. And, the coming of a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, named Jesus, is what it looked like when God returned as he promised, to claim his right to be King over his people.

That is the radical message of Mark chapter one, verses 1-8. Mark wastes no time in getting to his point. God has returned, just as he promised. It didn’t happen in the way we expected. It didn’t look like what we thought it would look like. But, this is how God has returned to renew his covenant with his people.

Briefly, let’s look at what Mark points out about Jesus, to understand why it is that he and the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was the coming of God.  

First, Jesus had an innate authority. When Jesus stands in the synagogues, to proclaim the word of God, he speaks on his authority. He does not say, “According to so-and-so, or, according to such-and-such book.” He doesn’t even say, at least not always, “According to the Bible.” He says, “I say to you.” He has such authority that he is able to command demons to come out of possessed people, and they do. The people responded, “What is this - a new teaching? And with authority!”

He can heal the sick and cleanse the infected and diseased.  He forgives people of their sins.  And, to prove that he has the authority to forgive sins, like God, he heals a paralyzed man and tells him to walk home.  

He claims to have the authority to say what is and is not permissible on the Sabbath, the holiest day of the week. When his religious critics get upset by his claim, he heals a man, who has a severe birth defect, to prove that he/Jesus is not delusional.  

When Jesus begins choosing disciples, he chooses 12 core disciples, as a sign of renewing Israel and restoring the covenant with God’s people.  He heals the blind and the deaf. He feeds the multitudes.  He raises the dead.  He walks upon the waters and calms the winds of the storm by the word of his command.  He is God. 

He invites people to leave everything behind and follow him.  He calls notorious sinners to turn from their sins and believe in him.  He tells the terrified not to be afraid.  He tells people everywhere to love him more than money, jobs, family, and even life itself.   But, he also promises that those who do will see the Kingdom of God coming in power and that they will inherit more than they have given up. 

Mark tells us that Jesus is more important and more glorious than any religious leader who ever lived, including Moses and Elijah.  And, Jesus demands that we make up our mind about whom he is.  He will not allow us to remain neutral or on the fence about whom he is. 

His standards are higher than the Law, but he welcomes the moral failure.  He enters into Jerusalem as its rightful King, but rides in on a lowly donkey.  Instead of overthrowing the ruling powers by might and force, he lays down his life and dies for the sake of the world.  He is the descendent of king David, but also the One King David called Lord.  

He promises to return at the end of the age, to judge the living and the dead. On the night before his death, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples, telling them that his death will bring about the renewal of the Covenant. Finally, three days after Jesus' death, the women return to his tomb to discover that he had risen from the dead as he promised.

The Jesus of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament, and, he invites you to follow him.  That is what the Gospel of Mark is about.  Over the next the several weeks and months, we will unpack all of this more carefully.  Today, we invite you to give your life to Jesus and follow him.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Psalm 46: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Anyone who knows me or who listens to my podcasts knows that I am a big fan of Rock n’ Roll music.  A few decades ago, it would have been shocking to hear an orthodox preacher say that; after all, it was assumed that Rock n Roll was the devil’s music.  

Not a lot of people think that way anymore, but to those holdouts I’d say, quoting Geoff More, “Why should the devil have all the good musics.”  Besides, most of the people I have heard say that Rock n Roll is the devil’s music listen to country music.  While I do not want to trash a whole genre of music, I have to say that I have heard plenty of country songs that would make a sailor blush.  Any music style can be used in positive or negative ways.  Any how.  

One of my favorite bands is the Irish band U2.  A particular favorite album is How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.  The Wikipedia article about this album had this to say: “Although not a concept album in the traditional sense, most of the music on the record deals with the world at the crossroads of its existence. Love and war, peace and harmony, and approaching death are themes of the album.”

The article also said something about the album I didn’t know: “Singer Michael W. Smith joined the band in the studio during the Atomic Bomb sessions and worked on at least one track with them entitled "North Star." That track, which was a tribute to Johnny Cash, has not yet surfaced officially or unofficially in any form. A song introduced by Bono as "North Star" was played in Turin during the U2 360° Tour, however, it is unknown whether or not this is the same song that was worked on during the sessions.”

In an interview I heard, Michael W. Smith talked about how the name of the album came about.  Smith and Bono were talking about all the problems our world faces.  As they did, Bono asked, “Michael, do you know how to dismantle an atomic bomb?”  Michael W. Smith said he did not.  To which Bono answered, “With love.”  

This interview led to me daydreaming a bit about what it might be like for all the nuclear weapons in the world to be dismantled.  As a part of one of the last generations to take part in nuclear bomb drills, I can say that the thought of there being no more nuclear weapons gave me a lot of happiness. If all the nuclear bombs suddenly disappeared, there would be no more terror of a tragic miscalculation leading to the end of civilization.  No longer would the fear of whole cities being incinerated grip the hearts of people who have been traumatized by the paranoia of the Cold War.  How marvelous it would be if we could just rid ourselves of these and other weapons of mass-destruction.

A few weeks later, this daydream was itself destroyed.  An article in a leading newspaper made the claim that nuclear weapons have probably spared the world of World War III and IV.  Until the advent of the nuclear bomb, leaders of nations around the world had been willing, even eager to put the lives of their citizens on the line for the possibility of conquering another nation.   

One terrible example of this fact is the Siege of Leningrad.  For 872 days, the German Army fought for control of this Russian city.  During that time, as many as one and a half million people died.  The Korean War is another example.  Though the U.S. was technically fighting North Korea in this conflict, many of the actual soldiers came from China.  Woefully outgunned, the Chinese soldiers died in dozens for every U.S. soldier that was killed.  Mao is reported to have said, “I would kill off a million Chinese soldiers for the pleasure of killing 100,000 U.S. soldiers.  

But, Chairman Mao was not unique. Throughout history, countless tyrant-leaders have show an abysmally low regard for the lives of their own people. 

The author the article I mentioned made the statement that what likely prevented the U.S. and Soviet Union from jumping into a World War with one another was the threat of mutually assured destruction.  That is, the idea that each side would be turned into radioactive dust kept either side from rushing to war.  The author went on to say that the time-period since WWII has been one of the longest periods in human history that has gone unmarked by a major, region-wide war.  

This, he said, is not because humans in our time are more humane or have fewer reasons for war. Instead, it is a profound fear that such a war would lead to the use of nuclear weapons, that has kept us from another world war. Thus far, such fear has kept us from condemning millions, or perhaps billions of souls to death for the sake war.

Psalm 46 was written in time of great danger for the people of God.  Chaos had threatened to undo them.  As we say in the Southern part of the United States, everything was falling apart.  Still, the Psalmist was able to express his confidence in the Lord, because God was with them.  No matter what the people faced, they could be assured that God would not leave them.

Their confidence was not in their own military might or even in the false notion that God would not let harm come to the city of Jerusalem.  Neither was their hope placed in the Temple, that most subtle form of idolatry.  Their hope was in the presence of God!

In light of recent tensions between Russia and United States, some fear that we may well be seeing the start of a new Cold War.   I sure hope not.  But, who can say?  On May 24, 2014, RT cited Vladimir Putin as saying, “I really would not like to think that this is a beginning of a new Cold War,” he said speaking with the heads of the world media at St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “I think this is not going to happen.”

This seems to be reassuring, but world events can change in a moment. What I can say, with great confidence is this; violence and war will not have an eternal reign. And, life on Earth will neither be extinguished by, nor be for ever dominated by the forces of death.

Lasting peace will come.  But, it will not come about because of human wisdom or political savvy. It will happen because God will be true to his promises.  

Yahweh, will himself dismantle the nations’ weapons and tools of destruction.  Verse 9 says:

He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

But, he will do more than that.  Not only will he rid the world of weapons of mass destruction; he will also rid his people of their warring madness.  He will speak and command the nations saying in verse 10: 

“Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Ultimately, war will end only when the nature of human beings has changed; when their hearts of stone have been replaced with soft, hearts of flesh, that beat with the rhythm of God’s love.  That is why Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.  He alone can bring about the renovation of the heart that will bring lasting peace to God’s precious world.  

Look at verse 4:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Ezekiel 47 tells about this river.  Its source is God himself and it has the power to give life, to heal, and to renew God’s creation.  It starts as a trickle, but soon is a river flowing deep and wide, capable of renewing all of earth and its people.  

It is the river John says will flow from within those who believe in Jesus; living waters (John 7).  It is same river John tells us about in Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

When these waters finally course their way throughout the world, then and then only will the nations know lasting peace.

In this podcast we featured the songs, Miss Atom Bomb 1951, by Mistervague, Ticking Bombs by Kidbrother, and Bombs by Kaj, all courtesy of Music Alley by Medvio.