Holy hands, unholy world
Mark 5:21-43
In 1976, a particularly nasty contagion took the lives of 151 people in Sudan and another 280 in Zaire. The disease recurred in Sudan and took the lives of another 22 people. It lay dormant for 15 years, then took 97 lives in Gabon and 254 lives in Zaire from 1994-1997. The virus took two years off. From 2000-2004 Central African countries lost 484 more people to this disease. Two more years without deaths. We are up to 1,288. From 2007-2012, another 291 people died: 1,579 in all. The most severe outbreak of all occurred in December 2013, leading to 11,385 deaths in Africa and beyond. Last week there were another 20 confirmed cases of the disease in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In all, about 13,000 people have died from one of four strains of the Ebola virus. The most deadly strain — Ebola Zaire — has a 90% death rate. It is a hemorrhagic disease, transmitted by blood, saliva, milk, semen, urine, vomit.

It is a horrible disease. I am not going to explain it. We live in a seriously messed up world.

Let’s pray.

* * *

I invite you to turn to the book of Mark, chapter 5, verse 21. Jesus is in the early part of his ministry, teaching in and around the large lake in the north of Israel which is called the Sea of Tiberius, of the Sea of Galilee. It is about a.d. 30. He had been on the eastern side of the lake and was returning to the western shore, perhaps near the town of Gennesaret or Capernaum.

521And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.

A great crowd surrounds Jesus, who is in danger of becoming a celebrity. He is in the midst of a large number of people who have heard of his teaching, his exorcisms and his healings — they are interested in seeing what he will do next.

Continue reading Contagion

Rembrandt at sea

MatthewWhen Rembrandt painted, he (more than occasionally) placed himself in the picture as a literal witness to the events.*  When I was studying for Matthew class, I noticed that Rembrandt placed himself in “Christ in the Storm” (Rembrandt is in the pink beret, holding a rope, looking out at us):

1.  Rembrandt, “Christ in the Storm” (1632) (stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1990) (1):

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee detail detail 2

The nose is a dead giveaway!

2.  Rembrandt, Self portrait (1629) (private collection) (2)


3.  Rembrandt, Self portrait (1630) (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum) (3)


4.  Rembrandt, Self portrait (1630) (4)


*For me, it was Francis Schaeffer who first pointed this out in How Should We Then Live? (1976): “Rembrandt had flaws in his life . . . but he was a true Christian; he believed in the death of Christ for him personally.  In 1633 he painted the Raising of the Cross . . . .  A man in a blue painter’s beret raises Christ upon the cross.  That man is Rembrandt himself — a self-portrait.  He thus stated for all the world to see that his sins had sent Christ to the cross.”

Fool’s Talk: The tyranny of application

Os Guinness observes with dismay that the modern Western obsession with “the magic of technique,” leads us to focus almost exclusively on the application question — what preachers call the “So what?” of a sermon:

“All good thinking is a matter of asking and answering three elementary questions. What is being said? Is it true? What of it? Yet one of the curious experiences of speaking in many places in the West is an almost universal preoccupation with the last question, as if audiences were incapable of answering it for themselves. A speaker must therefore provide ready-made ‘take home values,’ ‘next steps,’ ‘measurable outcomes’ and the like. I sometimes wonder if some audiences raise the first two questions at all, and I am far from certain that such insistence on formulas and recipes for action really leads to more decisive action in practice. But the hosts and chairpersons in many events act as if without spelling out all the next steps, audiences would be cruelly short-changed.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Kindle Locations 370-375). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

“Trajectory” and same-sex marriage

It is sometimes argued that the trajectory of Biblical teaching is such that some things which are permitted in the Old Testament are restricted in the New (e.g., slavery) and sometimes the Old is restrictive where the New Testament is expansive (food laws).  Recently we have heard much about this with regard to same-sex marriage.  It is a complicated subject.

Darrell Bock has a good post about it today.

Darrell Bock, “The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Common but Mistaken Claims,” The Gospel Coalition (July 27, 2015)

Readings for Rights, Wrongs & Rings

The following links are to the “assigned” reading materials.  They represent a range of views, and may help you think through the issues:

Tony Tucci, Homosexuality: The Biblical-Christian View,

Brief of Douglas Laycock, Thomas C. Berg, David Blankenhorn, Marie A Failinger and Edward McGlynn Gaffney, as Amici Curiae in Support of the Petitioners, Obergefell v. Hodges, Case Nos. 14-556, 14-562, 14-571, and 14-574 (March 6, 2015),d.aWw  [This is a download.]

A View from the Courtroom, Same-Sex Marriage Edition, SCOTUSblog (April 28, 2015)

Amy Howe, No clear answers on same-sex marriage: In Plain English, SCOTUSblog (April 28, 2015)

Robert P. George, Marriage and Equal Protection, The Witherspoon Institute: Public Discourse (May 1, 2015)

Abigail Rine, What is Marriage to Evangelical Millenials? First Things (May 14, 2015).

Tony Campolo, For the Record, (June 8, 2015).

Matthew Parris, As a gay atheist, I want to see the church oppose same-sex marriage, The Spectator (May 27, 2015)

Julie Rodgers, Can the Gay be a Good?

Bread and stones


. . . which of you,
if your son were to ask for bread,
would give him a stone?
or if he were to ask for a fish,
would give him a snake?

If therefore, you, being evil people,
know how to give good gifts to your children;
how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him?

Jesus’ immediate point in Matthew 7:9-11 is that if earthly fathers are reasonably unlikely to play such a grotesque practical joke on their children, God can be expected to respond to good requests with good, not trickery.

But when Jesus had stones instead of bread, what did he do?  He accepted it as something from God.  Obviously, I’m thinking about chapter 4, the temptation of Jesus in the desert — is that relevant here?  I think it is.

If I see a stone on my plate, instead of jumping to the conclusion that God is angry with me, I might contemplate the possibility that God’s immediate purpose is not the satisfaction of my hunger.

He might have something else in mind.

Memorial Day

As Christians we have a certain ambivalence to war, which causes us some confusion when we think about Memorial Day.

The Bible promotes patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control and (in fact) peace; but the images of warfare are frequent.  Indeed the picture of Christ at the end of time is a picture of a warrior king:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Revelation 19:11-16 (ESV).

We honor our veterans not because violence is praiseworthy in itself, but because in our fallen world violence is sometimes necessary and always involves great individual sacrifices.

Thank you for your service.

Vocabulary and thought

[L]anguage deficit leads to attention deficit.  As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.

Robert MacFarlane, “The word-hoard,” The Guardian (02/27/2015)

MacFarlane is talking about the gradual erosion of the vocabulary of words about our natural world, but this piece reminded me of how the loss of spiritual vocabulary — words and stories — leads to an inability to pay attention to spiritual things.