The Winner Is…



Congrats to Brian Davidson, the winner of Mark in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT! Enjoy the book, Brian!

I used Random Number Generator to pick the winner–tried and true. If you’d like to read my book note on the Mark commentary, it’s here.

Thanks for all who entered the giveaway! Subscribe via the right sidebar to get updated every time I post here.

Free Copy of Mark (ZECNT) in Print, and 80% Off Ebook Gospel Commentaries from Zondervan

Zondervan Matthew Collection


Starting August 8 and going until 11:59 (EST) on August 11, Zondervan is offering a host of commentaries on the Gospels at a steep discount. Almost all of them are ones I use regularly in preaching preparation.

Some highlights:

  • Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT, $7.99 (reviewed here)
  • Scot McKnight’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary, reviewed here)
  • Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT, $7.99 (book note here)
  • NIVAC volumes, including Gary Burge’s volume on John
  • Luke, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT, $7.99 (reviewed here, and I think the first commentary I reviewed for Words on the Word)

Find all the books on sale here.

Up for grabs!

As part of the promotion, Zondervan has given me a print copy of Mark Strauss’s Mark commentary (ZECNT) to give away. It retails at $44.99.

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win the Mark commentary, leave a comment saying which Gospel you find yourself most drawn to and why. If you share a link to this post on Facebook and/or Twitter, you get a second entry. (Make sure you let me know you shared, and leave the link in the comments.)

I’ll announce the winner Friday evening. Check out the whole sale here.

They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships

Joy vs. Facts, Sleeping in a Storm

One place I like to go, from time to time, to rouse my spirits and draw me closer to the heart of God is Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

I’ve been chewing on one line in particular the last part of this week: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

Berry’s words are good for us to hear right now, because “all the facts” include the reality of living in a country with a deeply ingrained racism habit that we just can’t seem to kick. The Deacons and I were praying Wednesday night in the back of our sanctuary, right about the same time another group of believers was praying in a Charleston, South Carolina church…. People of color in this country continue to suffer at the hands of racist persons and racist systems that perpetuate their mistreatment.

But, Berry says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

If Wendell Berry were narrating Jesus’ state of mind in Mark 4:35-41, he would have said, “Jesus relaxed and took a nap, though he had considered all the facts.”

The disciples are thinking, “Oooh, nice—we’re going to go out in a boat with Jesus into this serene lake:”

Sea of Galilee


Whereas Jesus probably knows that this was in the offing:


Jesus Calms the Storm, Gustave Doré
Jesus Calms the Storm, Gustave Doré


Here’s Rembrandt’s rendition of it:


The Storm on the Sea of Galiee


And yet Jesus “lies down and sleeps in peace,” as the Psalm says.


A Furious Squall…


Mark 4:35 says, “That day when evening came, [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’” From what I can tell, evening can be a good time to catch fish, but to traverse a lake…? When you’re out camping and sunset comes, you try to set up camp, not embark on a new leg of your expedition.

But God’s ways are not our ways, and Jesus’ ways are not the disciples’ ways, so off they go. Verse 36 says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.”

“Just as he was”—it’s like when you’ve made a spontaneous decision to pick up a friend and go out for coffee, and you are in a hurry and you say, “Just come like that, just come how you are. Atomic Cafe doesn’t care if you wear your pajama pants and fleece-lined Crocs. Get in the car.”

Jesus and the disciples just went.

Next verse, verse 37: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”

I love this genius storytelling of Mark. If you’re reading or listening to this story, you don’t know yet where Jesus is. “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” And then, you expect, verse 38 will say, “And Jesus, with power and authority, stood up and made the waves stand still.”

But, no, verse 38 says, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” He needed his introvert time. He found a pillow, or a big sandbag, and put his head on it.

The disciples take this as apathy, some kind of a cruel joke.

If the boat is nearly swamped, and Jesus is still sleeping, he must not be wet yet. It’s possible the stern was raised. The boat could have looked something like this:


Raised Stern


Which probably makes the disciples all the more upset. You wonder… if Jesus knew this storm was coming, is that why he was at the stern, elevated above the rest of the boat? And if so, the reader of this text wonders, why didn’t he quell the storm before it started? Or give the disciples a heads-up? Mark doesn’t tell us.

But his students ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we down?”

The specific wording Mark uses in the text suggests that the boat was filled “to the extent of its capacity” (HT).

And doesn’t this imagery of a flooding boat go against the axiom that “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Maybe it’s more like, “Sometimes we get more than we can handle, and God’s not necessarily the one who gave it to us, but he’ll be right by our side anyway.”


…And an Omnipotent God


If Mark’s given us the full humanity of Jesus—he was sleeping on a cushion—now we see his full divinity. Verse 39 says, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

“Who is this?” the disciples ask. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The text says it goes from a “great” windstorm to a “great” calm.

Jesus talks directly to the wind and the waves. Can you think of another person in biblical history who talked to the waves and the sea, and told them to do something?

Jesus, they are starting to see, is more than just an amazing teacher. Listen to how God questioned Job:

Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

I don’t know if the disciples, in that moment of fear, would have had Job in mind, but the kind of thing Jesus is doing in this passage is the kind of thing that only the LORD God Almighty does.

Here he is. God himself, in the boat with the disciples.

Psalm 107 says, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”

But They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships…


I wonder if Jesus had this Psalm in mind as he went out into the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. Maybe he thought, “Alright—it’s Psalm 107 time. Let me show these young ‘uns what I can do.”

Listen to part of Psalm 107 in the King James Version:

They that go down to the sea in ships,
that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind,
which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven,
they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted
because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble,
and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Did part of that ring a bell? You might recognize this guy:




Here’s a close-up of the Fisherman Memorial overlooking the Harbor:


They That Go Down


“They that go down to the sea in ships,” the inscription reads, 1623-1923.

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.


…These See the Works of the LORD


What about those who go unrescued?

And the Psalm goes on to describe the wind and the waves. Those at sea “reel to and fro… and are at their wits’ end.” Surely this describes the lives of those lost at sea from 1623 to 1923, and before and since.

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble,
and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm,
so that the waves thereof are still.

That very much sums up the experience of the disciples in Mark 4. They’re living out that Psalm with Jesus

But herein lies a theological difficulty. I don’t know how many fishermen cried “unto the LORD in their trouble” in stormy seas, but the memorial in Gloucester stands there to honor those who were not brought out of their distress… or at least, not brought out of a storm. There are some storms–literal and metaphorical–that God just does not make calm. Unlike the ones the Psalm 107 goes on to describe, these men and women that the man at the wheel stands for were not rescued.

“Teacher, don’t you care if [they] drown? …Why didn’t you save them?”

It’s one of the perplexing questions that confronts us—why a God who can and does intervene so often… just lets some things go… lets some evils move ahead. Allows men and women to get lost at sea.

That existential question has come up again this week in Charleston:


Source: David Goldman (AP)


You can’t kill love

The 9 members of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church barely had time to “cry to the LORD in their trouble.” And though Jesus was in attendance at that Bible study and prayer time—“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them”—he didn’t stop the hateful actions of a deeply racist young man.

Surely those 9 didn’t have to die. I don’t know how many more of these things it will take for our nation and lawmakers to finally move ahead in a serious conversation about gun control. I don’t know how many more unarmed black people will have to die before our country wakes up to the pervasive racism in our midst.

They didn’t have to die. But, you know what? In the lexicon of the Kingdom of God, dead isn’t really dead.

Because you can kill a person, but you can’t kill love.
You can try to cut somebody down, but “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” From even horrible death can come new and powerful expressions of life.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney was the Pastor of Mother Emanuel, one of those who died. There’s a short YouTube video you can easily find: a couple years ago he welcomed a group of folks who were on tour in historic Charleston. Here’s what he said:

The African American Church… really has seen it as its responsibility and its ministry and its calling to be fully integrated and caring about the lives of its constituents and the general community. We… don’t see ourselves as just a place we come to worship, but as a beacon, and as a bearer of the culture and a bearer of what makes us a people.

But I like to say this is not unique to us. It’s really what America is about. Could we not argue that America is about freedom? Whether we live it out or not… but America’s about freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. And that’s what church is all about. Freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends us to be… and have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you gotta make noise to do that. Sometimes you maybe have to die… to do that.

We saw this week how the family members of the victims responded. They called on Dylann Roof to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus. As Rev. Pinckney suggested, they called him to a life of “freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends [him] to be.” They said things like, “Though every fiber of my being is hurting, I forgive you.” And the nation watched, amazed at the witness of the families in that church.

And so God, working through the amazing mercy of the families, calms the storm, after all. The winds of hatred and the breaking waves of destruction die down as Christ works in the hearts of his disciples in Charleston who choose faith over fear.

When God’s children find themselves in choppy waters, our Lord, Jesus, is right there with us in the boat.

And because they know Jesus is in the boat with them, the families of Mother Emanuel have chosen to be joyful, “though [they] have considered all the facts,” though their loved ones have been lost at sea, as it were.

Not a sudden storm, not even a tragic shipwreck can keep Christ’s disciples from making it to the other side. There they see the works of the LORD, and their witness lives on.



The above is adapted from the sermon I preached today at church.

Book Note: Mark Strauss’s New Commentary on Mark (ZECNT)



I really dig Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, as you can see by the multiple volumes I’ve reviewed here. The series continues production, with 10 volumes now available. Recent additions are Karen H. Jobes’s 1, 2, and 3 John and Mark L. Strauss’s Mark.

Here’s how the series is laid out:

  • The Greek text of the book of the Bible, verse by verse, or split up phrase by phrase
  • The author’s original English translation
    • First, showing up in the graphical layout preceding each passage
    • Second, verse by verse, together with the Greek


Mark ZECNT Graphical Layout
Author’s graphical layout of Mark 1:1-8


  • The book’s broader Literary Context for each passage
  • An outline of the passage in its immediate context
  • The Main Idea (perhaps they had preachers in mind?)
  • Structure and literary form
  • An Exegetical Outline of the passage under consideration
  • Explanation of the Text, which includes the Greek and English mentioned above–this is the bulk of the commentary
  • The concluding Theology in Application section (i.e., what does the passage mean for us, what are its themes, and so on)

As I’ve said before: This sounds like a lot, but the result is not a cluttered commentary. Rather, as one gets accustomed to the series format, it becomes easy to quickly find specific information about a passage. The section headings are in large, bold font.

Here’s Strauss on Jesus in Mark 3, who asks, “Who are my brothers and mother?”

At one point, [Jesus] refused to see his family, saying that his true mother and brothers were those who did God’s will (Mark 3:31–35, par.). Jesus is not repudiating his family but rather is affirming deeper spiritual bonds. It is not surprising that the early believers referred to each other as “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi). As Jewish followers of Jesus were increasingly expelled from the synagogues and Jewish families were divided, this emphasis on spiritual kinship became extremely important.


In the context of the Beelzebub controversy, the point is clear: kinship in the kingdom of God is based not on ethnic identity or family background but on a relationship with God through Jesus.

I’m following the lectionary through parts of early Mark right now, and though there are already a host of great commentaries on book (not the least of which is this gem), Strauss’s volume has been a welcome addition to my sermon preparation process!

Find the book here at Zondervan’s product page or here on Amazon.

Book Review: Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man

Mark 13 is one of the most difficult chapters of the Bible to interpret and understand. From the “abomination of desolation” to the claim of Jesus that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” the chapter is full of statements that could refer either to the near (historical) or far (apocalyptic) future.

Robert H. Stein’s goal in writing Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13 is to finish the sentence, “I, Mark (the author), have written Mark 13:1-37, because…”. Stein, author of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament volume on Mark, is one of the best commentators one could hope to read on such a challenging and important chapter.

Here is Stein’s outline of Mark 13, in his words (p. 49):


  • 13:1-4: Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (and Jerusalem) (chapter 3 of this book)
  • 13:5-23: The coming destruction of the temple (and Jerusalem) and the sign preceding it (ch. 4)
  • 13:24-27: The coming of the Son of Man (ch. 5)
  • 13:28-31: The parable of the fig tree and the coming destruction of the temple (and Jerusalem) (ch. 6)
  • 13:32-37: The parable of the watchman and the exhortation to be alert for the coming of the Son of Man (ch. 7)


The majority of the book (chapters 3-7) is taken up with Stein’s exposition of each verse in Mark 13. Chapter 1 defines the goal of the book: “to understand what the author of the Gospel we call Mark meant and sought to convey by the present text of Mark 13” (39). Stein focuses especially on what Mark meant to “teach his readers by the Jesus traditions that he chose to include in this chapter, his arrangement of these traditions and his editorial work in the recording of this material” (45). Chapter 2 is “Key Issues Involved in Interpreting Mark 13.”

Chapter 8 is a really nice add-on, which consists of Stein’s “interpretive translation” of Mark 13. What a great idea! You can read the chapter in one sitting and see right away how Stein interprets it. This could be a really good starting point for the reader, as could the excellent and detailed “Outline” starting on p. 9 (basically an annotated table of contents).

Stein offers at the outset a nice tour of the so-called quests for the historical Jesus, and how that relates to reading Mark. But Stein doesn’t seem to think the authorship (Mark) or genre (historical narrative) of Mark matters much to the purpose of this short commentary. I find his views here less than compelling, but that didn’t keep me from being convinced by the rest of the book.

Two key points the book makes will give a sense of Stein’s approach:

  1. Stein differentiates between three settings we need to keep in mind: “the first involving the teaching of the historical Jesus to his disciples, the second involving the situation of the early church between the death and resurrection of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, and the third involving the situation in which and for which the Evangelist Mark wrote his Gospel” (47).
  2. Because of the above point, Stein can tease out different settings and time-frames that different portions of Mark 13 refer to. He says, for example, “Mark does not see the coming of the Son of Man [AKJ: the apocalyptic imagery in 13:24-27] as part of Jesus’ answer (13:5-23) to the disciples’ twofold question (13:4) concerning the destruction of the temple” (72).

Throughout the book Stein keeps in view the distinction between the soon-to-come, 1st century future (destruction of the temple) and the distant, unknown day of the coming of the Son of Man. Stein acknowledges that it is “easy to intermix these two horizons [two settings in time] of the text, and the result is confusion and lack of clarity in understanding either setting in time” (100). Much of the chapter, Stein argues (but not all), anticipates the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.

You don’t need to know Greek to make good use of this text, but Stein does keep (transliterated) Greek in front of him so he can analyze the text at the word and phrase level. He is really good, too, at using a broader biblical context to help explain specific parts of Mark 13.

I read the book cover-to-cover in a few sittings—it was that intriguing! As detailed and in-depth as Stein’s reasoning is, it reads really nicely: his tone is conversational, which makes it easy to try to sort through some tough hermeneutical issues. Stein’s is certainly not the only possible interpretation of Mark 13, but it’s a persuasive one.


Thanks to the fine folks at IVP Academic for the review copy. Find the book here at IVP’s site, or here on Amazon.

Good Will Hunting and Making Space to Receive Love

Baseball is Finally Hair
Baseball is Finally Hair


Last week Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers started reporting for Spring Training. Spring Training, of course, takes place in Florida and Arizona. Red Sox pitchers and catchers reported last Friday in Fort Myers, Florida, where it will be in the 60s, 70s, and 80s all this week.

On the one hand, Spring Training team standings don’t mean much. How a team does in Spring Training is often not a predictor of how they’ll do in the regular season. Last year, for example, there were 21 teams with better Spring Training records than the Kansas City Royals, who very nearly won the World Series. But this 40-odd day period of preparation, exercise, and deliberate conditioning is essential to summer success in Major League Baseball.


Lent: Spring Training for Christians


We Christians actually invented Spring Training: except we call it Lent. There’s no Cactus League or Grapefruit League for us… more of a Penance League and a Snowstorm League.

Lent is the period of 40 days, plus Sundays, leading up to Easter—Resurrection Sunday—the most important date on the calendar for followers of Jesus, more important, even, than Opening Day.

5 Practices Fruitful LivingLent in 2015 at our church will allow us some opportunities to more deeply cultivate our sense of Christian identity, both as individuals and as a church. We’ll explore five key disciplines for those who walk with Jesus.

We’ll be reading a book—Five Disciplines of Fruitful Living—by Robert Schnase, a Methodist Bishop.

Each Sunday in church I’ll preach on one of the five practices. Then, the week following, we’ll read that corresponding chapter.

Here are the Five Practices:

• Radical Hospitality (“Receiving God’s Love”)
• Passionate Worship (“Loving God in Return”)
• Intentional Faith Development (“Growing in Grace”)
• Risk-Taking Mission and Service (“Loving and Serving Others”)
• Extravagant Generosity (“The Grace of Giving”)

Today’s focus is Radical Hospitality, our hospitality and receptivity to God’s grace toward us. This discipline is all about how we receive God’s love. I think you’ll really appreciate this chapter if you make time to read it this week.


Receiving God’s Love


God is many things, but Love is God’s most fundamental characteristic.

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”—a sort of mantra of the Old Testament that finds expression in books as diverse as Exodus, Nehemiah, Joel, and the Psalms.

“God is love,” John says, multiple times in 1 John 4.

And any love we experience or share is rooted in God’s love for us: “We love because he first loved us.” “God is love.”

God declared his love for Jesus at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.” Through our baptism and faith we are adopted into God’s family. Not only do we call God Father, but we call Jesus brother, and share in his inheritance of the Father’s love and good pleasure.

The love that God declared for Jesus has been bestowed on us, lavished on us, 1 John says. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

We are God’s children, whom he loves.

That God is love and that we are loved by God is the most foundational aspect of reality, what philosophers have for thousands of years sought after as “the really real.”

How do we know God loves us? Here’s 1 John again:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

And so I appreciate that the first of these five disciplines that Robert Schnase suggests is not so much a habit to take on or a practice to engage, but just plain love to receive.

Of course we don’t hoard it or keep it to ourselves, so the other practices of Christian faith include loving God back and serving others in this great love.

But it’s worth stopping just to ask: Am I receiving God’s love? Am I carving out space in my life where I can listen, call to mind, welcome, and accept God’s lavish love for me?

Each year I’m usually pretty consistent about taking on a couple of Lenten disciplines. I especially like pairing the practice of “giving up” something—a distraction that keeps me from awareness of God—with “taking on” something—a new practice or renewed effort to keep God’s presence more top of mind.

This year, however, I’m still catching up on my New Year’s resolutions, so it’s been hard to think about starting a new Lenten discipline.

If you’re in the same boat, or if you didn’t realize until today that we’re already 4 days into Lent, and you want to do something, I encourage you to think just in terms of this coming week, and to carve out some time and space to receive God’s love. Make space to receive God’s love.

One of my New Year’s resolutions I fell behind on the second week of January was reading the Bible all the way through in a year. I’m not giving up, though. This week, as I was supposed to be wrapping up Leviticus, I read Exodus 25. God has raised up Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, and led this new covenant people out of miserable slavery in Egypt. They’re on their way to the promised land.

After God gives Moses and the people the 10 Commandments and many other instructions, there comes this beautiful pivot point in Exodus 25 that sets up so much of Israel’s wilderness journey: God says, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”


Tabernacle Model, Via Ruk7 at Wikipedia Commons
Tabernacle Model, Via Ruk7 at Wikipedia Commons


See, God can dwell wherever and whenever and however he chooses, but he calls his people from the very beginning to carve out a space for him, where they can honor his presence and receive his love. Hospitality toward God is all about making room for God. Hospitality toward God is about receptivity, open hands, a willing heart. As our author will put it, it’s about saying, “Yes” to God.

This “practice of fruitful living,” we’ll see, drives all the other practices and undergirds them.


External Obstacles


But how many obstacles are there that stand between us and God’s love?

For one, we have a dizzying array of technological distractions available to us at any moment.

Or maybe we get our viewing and clicking habits under control, only to find out that the real, live human beings we know have a whole host of demands and expectations of us. Whether co-workers, clients, professors, children, bosses, siblings, or students, we often acutely feel that our time is not our own.

Furthermore, we have been shaped, for better or for worse, by hurts imposed upon us by others, by pain past and present, some things resolved, others unresolved. These can make us guarded, and give us pause when it comes to opening the door of our hearts to God.


Internal Obstacles


And then there’s us. We get in the way of our own receiving of God’s love for us. We undermine our own efforts at radical hospitality toward the grace of God. We do this by neglect, out of fear, due to pride, because of overworking, or just sheer lack of putting forth the effort required to make a space where we can commune with God.

As I’ve thought this week about the many barriers that keep us from more fully embracing God’s love, I’ve found some illumination in a somewhat unlikely place: one of my all-time favorite movies, Good Will Hunting.

Will Hunting—played by Matt Damon—is a genius, a mathematical prodigy who proves an impossible theorem on an MIT chalkboard while he’s mopping the floor as janitor.

He gets into trouble for hitting a police officer, and then is assigned therapy as part of his deal to not have to go to prison.


Good Will Hunting Public Garden


His therapist, Sean, is played by Robin Williams… an amazing performance by both men.

Sean realizes very early with Will that there are two poles, both of which keep Will from opening himself to receiving—and giving—love.

On the one hand, Will undermines deep relationships by his lack of effort, through willful stubbornness and arrogance.

On the other hand, Will is an orphan; he was abused by his foster dad and the foster system itself. One can hardly blame him for wanting to keep distance from all humanity.

Sean points out, “We get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds,” as he watches Will pursue a love interest while also keeping her at bay.

At their first therapy session, Will pompously tries to psychoanalyze his therapist, Sean, based on the books, pictures, and a single painting in his office.

Next session, Sean leads Will out of his office and to a park bench at the Boston Public Garden.

He points out that Will is really just practicing avoidance. As they sit there in that iconic scene, Sean says,

I can’t learn anything from you, [that] I can’t read in some __ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in.

But you don’t want to do that do you sport? You’re terrified of what you might say.

Your move, chief.

He walks away.

We know what it is to be “terrified of what [we] might say,” if we were truly vulnerable in the presence of God. We can also be scared of what we might hear, what God might ask of us, or of getting a reminder of what God has already asked of us, that we’re not doing.

But if Will Hunting’s avoidance is partly his own doing, there is also a sense in which he has been so malformed by his past, that he really doesn’t know how to love, and how to be loved.

One of the culminating scenes in the movie is where the therapist Sean has to turn in a report on Will to the court. (You can watch it here.)

Will says, “So, uh, what is it, like, Will has an attachment disorder? Is it all that stuff?”

Sean nods.

Will goes on, “Fear of abandonment? Is that why I broke up with Skylar?”

Sean says, “I didn’t know you had.”

Sean says, “Hey, Will? I don’t know a lot. You see this? All this [stuff]?

He holds the file up and then drops it down on his desk.

Sean says, “It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“Look at me, son,” says Sean. “It’s not your fault.”

Will nods, but Sean just keeps repeating that line, “It’s not your fault; it’s not your fault; it’s not your fault,” till finally Will breaks down, sobbing, and reaches out to hug his therapist.


Make Space This Week to Receive God’s Love


Bishop Schnase in his book talks about these two poles Sean identified in Will. He doesn’t talk about Good Will Hunting, but it’s the same dynamic. Schnase calls them “elements of distance, both inherited and willful,” that keep us from receiving God’s love.

Whether “It’s not your fault,” or whether “It’s your move, chief,” a combination of fear, guilt, neglect, deep pain, and disobedience almost actively seeks to prevent us from carving out spaces where God can dwell, and where we can simply bask in his love.

We need more time, more openings, more gaps, and wider margins where we can slowly churn over God’s words that are for us, too:

“You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.”

“You are my child, whom I love.”

“You are my child, whom I love.”

Give yourself permission—starting today and tomorrow—to dedicate time and space to gratefully receive God’s love. If you can’t give yourself permission, you’ve got my permission. Consider it the pastor’s equivalent of a doctor’s note—a pastoral exhortation.

“Listen!” Jesus says, “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and dine with you, and you will dine with me.”

Give yourself permission to do as God’s first people did, to make little sanctuaries of time and space where you can meditate on God’s lavish love for you, and receive his grace.

Not just so you can run off and give it to someone else—that’s next week’s practice…but so that you can know how deep, how strong, how rich, how unrelenting, how comforting, how amazing, how replenishing, how good, and how perfect is the love of Jesus… for you.



The above is adapted from the sermon I preached at my church last Sunday.

Two More Greek Gems from †Rod Decker

Rod Decker on Mark
Long awaited


Before Prof. Rodney Decker passed, he finished writing his Koine Greek Grammar, with which I’m already impressed–having just begun working through the Appendixes!

One other last (and sure-to-be lasting) contribution to the world of Greek readers is his two-volume commentary on the Greek text of Mark, from Baylor University Press. It is part of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek Text, which I’ve reviewed (Luke) here.

The two-volume set came in the mail today, courtesy of Baylor. Decker’s Koine Greek Reader is the best resource of its kind. His scholarship was always careful and engaging. These Baylor books–about which I will post again in the future–look like about the first thing you’d want to have by your side when reading through Mark.

You can find the books here.

Mark (NIGTC) in Logos’s

France NIGTC MarkFor an exegesis course in seminary, I was assigned R.T. France’s Mark in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series. The assignment was to read the entire commentary that semester, and I read every one of its 700+ pages. It was that good.

Like the rest of the NIGTC series, France’s volume focuses first on the Greek text, including textual variants where they arise. France is a careful interpreter and keeps the other synoptic gospels in view throughout the commentary. This is not, however, to the exclusion of a keen awareness of and sensitivity to the literary context of Mark as its own book. Even as he unpacks the lexical range of a Greek word, he keeps the larger contour of Mark in view.

As I mentioned in another France review, despite the technical nature of Mark, France moved me deeply with his interaction with the text. He helped me to know and love Jesus more deeply, using the Greek text of Mark as a means to that end. You can find France’s commentary on Amazon (affiliate link) here. It’s in Logos here, where it is well-produced and thoroughly hyperlinked.

For as much as I’ve reviewed Logos Bible Software, I’ve barely mentioned It’s a Web-based way of accessing Logos resources you own. This is especially helpful for those times when I just need to pull up a commentary (like France’s) but don’t want to wait for Logos to open, load, or index. It looks like this (click on image to enlarge):

NIGTC Mark in Biblia

I haven’t found a way to make the ads at lower left disappear. Nor is Biblia intended to be as full-bodied as Logos (note that it’s in Beta). Since you can access it through any Web browser, it’s fairly universally accessible. Only real downside I’ve experienced: unlike Logos on iOS, Mac, and PC, you can’t highlight or take notes in any resources. But for reading texts–two at a time, as shown above–it’s pretty handy.

You can see above how I’m reading France’s Mark on the right, with a Bible open on the left. Regarding the way that Mark introduces John the Baptist at Mark 1:9, France writes:

(ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις has an equally formal, ‘biblical’ ring; Mark stands in the tradition of the great chroniclers of the acts of God in the OT.) It introduces a new phase in the story and, in this case, a new actor in the drama.

This is one of many examples of France’s using Greek to help the reader better understand what Mark is up to in his Gospel. His command of Greek and obvious love for God make this the first commentary to reach for when reading, teaching, or preaching on Mark.

Thanks to Logos for the review copy of the NIGTC series. See also my post about NIGTC Matthew in Logos here.

Restoration in the Wilderness


I heard a good joke today. Good by my standards, anyway, which not all who know my humor will wholly trust.

Question: “What do John the Baptist and Kermit the Frog have in common?”

Answer: “Well, besides their affinity for water, they both share a middle name of the.”

That made me think again about my boy JBap. (Yes, that’s what Raymond Brown really calls him.) As Words on the Word inches closer to its one-year anniversary, I am reproducing below some reflections I shared last summer on John the Baptist, the wilderness, and restoration:

From the wilderness comes restoration.

The wilderness for Israel was all too often a place of dissension and lack of trust in God’s promises.

Exodus 17:7 says, “Moses called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, on account of the quarreling of the children of Israel, and on account of their testing Yahweh, which they did by saying, ‘Is Yahweh in the midst of us or not?'” Massah means testing and Meribah means strife or quarreling. “Whining” would not be an inappropriate translation for Meribah. Psalm 78 (go here and scroll down to 78) details the repeated lack of faith Israel had in their delivering God.

(Disclaimer: I am not claiming I would have done better or have done better in wilderness settings.)

In the Gospels, however, Jesus redeems and transforms the wilderness experience on behalf of the entire people of God. In the New Testament Jesus serves as a stand-in for the people of God, both in the wilderness and on the cross.

One of Mark’s first καὶ εὐθὺς statements (“and immediately”) has Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But unlike the people of God in Exodus, Jesus did not sin when he was tempted to walk away from God and worship another. I once heard a preacher say that where Adam failed, where Israel failed, and where all humanity failed… Jesus succeeded on behalf of all people when he refused to listen to Satan in the wilderness.

The wilderness, isolated place that it is, connects with hope to the whole of salvation history. John the Baptist, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness,” hearkens back to Old Testament prophets that “prepare the way of the Lord.” John self-identifies as the prophet par excellence who prepares the way for Jesus. The wilderness may be lonely and despairing, but it is also the place to which Jesus comes.

As R.T. France writes, “The wilderness was a place of hope, of new beginnings…in the wilderness God’s people would again find their true destiny.”

From the wilderness comes restoration—even if it’s only the beginning of the process of restoration. Saint Mark’s first listeners/readers saw the wilderness motif immediately at the beginning of the Gospel (no birth narrative!), with John as prophet in the wilderness and with Jesus conquering Satan’s temptation in the wilderness. This alerted them that something significant was about to happen.

“Is God in our midst or not?”

I confess I’m too quick to ask that question with Israel when I find myself in a proverbial desert. But the desert wilderness is the exact place to which God saw fit to send John, preaching the good news of forgiveness and calling people to a baptism of repentance. The desert wilderness is the exact place to which God saw fit to drive Jesus, so that he could resist the devil’s temptations, beginning to win for us a victory we could never win for ourselves. God in Jesus restores what we have made “Massah” and “Meribah” by our lack of trust and rush to complain.

Next wilderness I come to, I’m going to try to ask myself… what restoration is on the other side of this?

Faith and healing in the Gospel of Mark: a brief reflection

Jesus healsFaith is closely connected with healing in Mark. Jesus heals the paralytic on the basis of the faith of his friends (and of the paralytic himself, too?) in 2:5. Mark 5:34, 7:29, 10:52 feature similar healings where the faith of the healed seems to be at least a partial basis for Jesus’ healing.

At the same time, Jesus shows his frustration with lack of faith. He exhorts his disciples in 4:40 after he calms the storm, since they are afraid and not showing faith. In 6:6 and 9:19 Jesus expresses disapproval of the crowd who does not have faith in him. And in Mark 11:22 Jesus tells the disciples, “Have faith in God” (or, “Have the faith of God,” ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ).

Causation in general is difficult to prove, and although some hold that Mark 6:5-6 say that lack of faith limits Jesus’ power, one should be careful not to conclude from Mark that if someone is physically sick or mentally ill, it is just because that person does not have enough faith. At the same time it is clear that in Mark Jesus heals those who have faith. Mark seems to convey that Jesus’ act of healing is at least in some sense related to their faith, if not a direct result of it.

Robert A. Guelich, in his commentary on Mark, writes, “Faith represented the critical link in one’s relationship with Jesus” (312-3). And, “although Mark does not actually define ‘faith,’…it meant much more than being impressed with Jesus’ words and deeds in view of his modest family background. …To those who came to him in faith seeking help…, he responded by meeting their need” (313).

Just as Jesus tells the disciples (as noted above) to “have faith,” he says in Mark 9:23, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” The father of the boy with an evil spirit says, “I believe (πιστεύω), help my unbelief (ἀπιστία)!”

Mark’s Gospel finally reaches a Christological culmination in the profound profession of faith by the centurion in chapter 15, who declares Jesus to be truly the “Son of God.” Such faith!