Mark 1: 7-8

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

Like Mark points away from himself towards the Gospel, John points away from himself towards Christ, and the forthcoming real baptism.

I struggle to imagine what being baptised with the Holy Spirit would be like. In being baptised in water by a person, I am taking part in a ritual that stands for something else; being baptised with the Holy Spirit by Jesus would be real forgiveness, real acceptance and real empowerment.

In my imagination baptism has a strong sensual aspect too (although I’ve never knowingly been baptised) — immersion in water, washing away sins. I can’t help wondering about sensual aspects of the Holy Spirit.

Though to take

These puzzles possessed me so much I failed to see the most important point. Just like the people from Jerusalem went to John seeking baptism and forgiveness, I must go to Jesus, and repent, and ask for forgiveness.

TtT

  • Go to Jesus, repent my sins, ask for forgiveness

Help, Yield

I think I’ve been running away from that thought this last week or so.

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Regime

I realised too late that today was actually Friday and not Thursday. I had written out the week’s verses (Mark 1:7-8), and I have been pondering productively through the week, but I didn’t have time to write up and publish (after I realised that it was indeed Friday). And I shan’t have decent writing opportunity (this doesn’t count) until Sunday evening.

Part of me thinks, “What have I got myself into? I’ve got too much to do already!”

A stronger part of me thinks that this is not an onerous task, it will do me a lot of good, and the discipline will have a beneficial effect on other parts of my life.

So the weekly plan is still the aim.

Mark 1:6

[Office internet was down last Friday hence late posting.]

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

John is an outsider — part of the wilderness.

The points raised here are not held against John. They are used to show that John is not worldly or graceful.

This lack is worth pointing out because it shows that John was focussed on more important things: his mission as baptist and forerunner.

Though to take

John knew his mission was important so he kept his focus on that and was not distracted by worldly temptations. I am not good as resisting distractions. I can be better at that by having more faith in my mission — not as grand as John’s, but in some ways the same. My real mission, over and above providing for my family, is preparing the way for the Lord, bringing Him closer to earth and earth closer to Him.

TtT

  • Be clear about what my mission really is
  • Have faith in my mission

Help, Yield

This positive message has helped keep me on the straight and narrow.

Mark 1: 4-5

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

Mark does not think John’s background or history are important to relate. What is important is what John is doing now.

John is baptising “in the wilderness” — away from the hurly-burly of the town, away from the established churches, away from where people live and work normally. People are “going out to him” — John is not baptising where people are already, they are taking a journey to go and meet him.

Irrelevant perhaps, but I can’t help recalling that “in the wilderness” is where Jesus is taken and tempted by the devil (verse 12, a different bit of wilderness perhaps).

Baptism involves: going out, confessing sins, repenting, and receiving forgiveness. Forgiveness is not given by the person baptising, but by the higher authority (?). The confession is public, at least in the sense that it is given to another person.

Though to take

This process of confession and repentance — including having that process recognised — will free me from the sins I have committed. Free me from guilt and remorse, and more importantly, free me from the demonic pull to sin again. It doesn’t seem to be something I can do alone … and it’ll be a long time before I can confess anything to anyone IRL.

Confession in prayer is not effective: it is irregular, it is separated from the moment, it feels fleeting and ephemeral. By the end of the day (when I pray) I often have more than one thing to confess (!) and I will generally dwell on one of them. At bedtime I’m mostly thinking about my family and my wife.

An apology is a bit like a confession. An apology is recognised like a confession is. An apology is about something specific. I shall be eager to apologise when I sin against people around me.

I want to confess failures promptly. One way I can do this is with written confessional prayers. Opening my diary and writing down the confession will take me out of my day. The writing and addressing the confession to God will challenge me to be specific and sincere, and to reach out for the help I need. Receiving forgiveness there and then, in the aftermath of shame, will help attach the forgiveness to the sin and help me remember and avoid next time I am tempted.

TtT

  • Confess and repent, and receive forgiveness.
  • Confess in the moment, confess specifically.

Help, Yield

I had a bad relapse last Friday (in fact last week was a very relapsy week) and read this passage soon afterwards. Remorse and my failure to extricate myself were very much in my mind. Reading these verses exacerbated that.

This week these verses have weighed on my mind, and that has kept me from failing in the same way.

This week I apologised promptly to my sister for a fairly gratuitous slight.

This morning I had a little victory over myself, opting for the right actions and ways of thinking.

Mark 1: 1-3

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise what is true

The other gospels open with a rhetorical flourish (Matthew’s genealogy, Luke’s letter to his patron, John’s allusion to Genesis), but Mark is relatively plain and to the point.

Verse 2 quietly asserts the relevance of the Old Testament to Christians — not just as prophecy, but also as interpretation and commentary.

The quotation prepares the reader for the introduction of John the Baptist in the next verses.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord” was the opening song from a musical called Godspell, that my mother was a big fan of in the early 70s.

Thought to take

Reading now, I want to be such a messenger — preparing the way of/for Christ, and leading others to do the same. That must include settings an example of how to live, as well as explicitly promoting the Gospel. I also want to be a messenger for Christ to myself, to make my own paths straight — or, to make the Lord’s paths straight by walking them myself.

I shall be a good messenger for Christ. Always be ready to receive messages from Christ, listen and watch. Take and treasure messages and deliver them carefully, to others and to myself.

I shall not run for messages from other sources. On receiving a bogus message (profane prompts, sinful urges) I shall hit pause, and look to Christ for resolution.

TtT

  • Be a messenger for Christ
  • Make His paths straight

Help

The slogan “Make His Paths Straight” has been useful for the most trivial things and the most foundational things — motivating me to keep my time organised at work, to carve through drudgery efficiently and cheerfully, to get up if I wake early instead of dozing listlessly. Although I am tired and anxious about work, this slogan has urged me to (try and) put that aside when my wife or our son are near, and to give them my full attention.

Yield

Receiving a message from Christ would be an honour and a joy. Unfortunately, my receiver works rather intermittently. It’s quite good during quiet times or prayer times, the rest of the time I need to work on picking up His signal over my internal noise.

It’s easy to say I am pulled aside by temptation, but I choose to follow those signals.

I pray this study course will bring Him closer to my heartbeat.

Worthy

I have been enjoying taking part in Beth Steffaniak’s Scripture reading groups on Facebook. We have studied 1 & 2 Samuel from the Old Testament, New Testament letters like Philippians, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter, as well as themed courses of study. Beth uses a framework she has designed called “Worthy” which helps approach and engage with a passage of Scripture.

I have enjoyed the groups, and using the Worthy method so much, I am going to try and read the Gospel of Mark using the same method. (First reading is here.)

Some of Beth’s Worthy resources

Two blog posts:

One YouTube video:

The Worthy Method (as I understand it)

The WORTHY acrostic expands into six phases of studying and responding to Scripture:

  • Welcome the Lord
  • Observe what the Scripture says
  • Recognise what is true
  • Thought to take
  • Help
  • Yield to God’s truth

* Welcome

Create a peaceful time and space to Welcome the Lord, accept His presence, and create the right atmosphere to open myself to Scripture.

* Observe

Notice in detail what is in the text. Beth suggests reading the passage aloud several times, writing it out word-for-word. After that it might be helpful to explain certain terms or phrases (e.g., who is Melchizedek?).

* Recognise

Write out all my thoughts about the passage: what appeals to me, what challenges me, what confuses me or passes me by. This section should be free and open-ended and thorough.

* Thought to take

How does the passage challenge me to change or help me see a way forward? Respond personnally to the passage and commit to taking its wisdom to heart.

T2t

Summarise the Thought to Take section in a bite-sized statement or a slogan that I can take with me through the week.

* Help

Apply the Scripture to my daily living. Seek God’s help to live out the Scripture’s wisdom. Share what I have learnt and extend God’s help to others.

* Yield

This phase is about applying the Scripture too, this time in about areas where I struggle to surrender, or temptations that I face. Let the Scripture help me let go of my immediate impulses and desires, and give me strength to cover my weaknesses.

My weekly plan

Beth’s reading groups have a reading every day. I am going to aim for one reading per week.

  • Over the weekend I shall choose the next reading (e.g., the next two-to-three verses of Mark).
  • Early in the week I shall write out the verses longhand. With my coloured pencils I will annotate or decorate the verse meaningfully.
  • Before midweek I shall write the Observe, Recognise and Though to Take sections.
  • Through the week I shall find and notice opportunities to Help and Yield.
  • Before Friday I shall post a summary to this blog.

Men

There are two things about my Christian blog/twitter reading that I’d like to change. I do try to tackle these periodically but generally end up back where I started.

  • Almost all the bloggers I read are from the US, none are Brits.
  • All the bloggers I read regularly (actually only three) are women.

The first is not a big deal. It might be nice to hear some voices from closer to home but otoh those voices will bring a lot of local cultural and political baggage that I am not interested in.

The second point is perhaps more interesting, especially given some of the issues I am dealing with on this blog. So why don’t I read more — any — male Christian bloggers?

Many of the male Christian bloggers I’ve come across seem much too keen (for my taste) to lay down the law, as if their role model is Paul rather than Jesus. Women bloggers are much more like, “Here I am, a Christian”. In the women’s blogs the law (I mean the Good News) speaks through a person’s life; in the men’s blogs the law is stated as such, with examples (sometimes from the blogger’s own life).

This might only go for American men (US masculinity seems very narrow); it might only be the tiny sample I’ve come across.

Perhaps I just prefer women’s voices.

Perhaps there is nothing to be explained: I’ve been blogging in this persona for 4 1/2 years and I’ve only found three blogs I like enough to read regularly. Perhaps I just have very high standards.

Anyway, I am going to make a conscious effort to step outside of my comfort zone of these three blogs and seek out (a) British voices and (b) men’s voices.

How, I don’t know. Perhaps run twitter searches for “Philippians” and see what turns up.

All recommendations and suggestions welcome.

A life of two halves

I am 51. My birthday is mixed up with Christmas and New Year so I have always taken the season personally.

In my early 40s I started to think I was middle-aged. Turning 50 and 51 I start to think I am getting old, moving into end times. These are the ready-made cultural scripts we are given.

Then I remembered that my mother-in-law is in her 90s and is physically and mentally healthy and independent. People are living longer, and more healthily and actively than ever before, and that progress is continuing. I could easily live to be over 100. The composer Elliott Carter was active at the forefont of his field right until his death in 2012 at the age of 103. No need to turn in at 50 or 60 or 70.

If I live to be 100 I am only just into the second half (if I count only my adult life, I’m still in the first half).

Half-time is a good time to be born again, and to relaunch myself. I can think of my adult life so far as a kind of second childhood or gestation. I look forward to 50 years of new life.

Born Again

“Born Again” is my theme for this year.

It feels a bit presumptuous to call myself “born again”, not least because I am still “in the closet”. It feels presumptuous to call myself “saved” or anything like that — although I know Jesus is there for me, and I am trying sincerely to be guided by His star at all times.

Having said that, “born again” is how I feel, and how I want to live from now on.

I have been concentrating hard on battling my demons.

I have not shopped for lingerie or dressed up since August 2016. I think I am out of the clutches of that demon — although I am not confident that I have escaped for the right reasons (see Resisting temptation for the wrong reasons. Does it matter?).

I was masturbating and using pornography up until late December last year, so those demons are very much still active (see Handling episodes of failure). I am determined, however, that they will not contaminate this new year.

I don’t really like the “addiction” narrative about pornography, but I remembered that I did used to smoke cigarettes (early 80s to late 90s). That was certainly an addiciton, and I certainly quit. So I now see using pornography and masturbating as habits like smoking was a habit. Like most people who quit, I “quit” smoking several times, but one last time I really quit. Well, (hopefully) I have now really quit masturbating and really quit using pornography.

I have also realised belatedly that by using pornography, I was training myself to look at women in a certain way, and that I couldn’t really defeat that demon while I was still using pornography.

So, there is no room for complacency, but I feel these demons are on the defensive. Now I want to turn to new demons, or new challenges, challenges to do with my work and, especially, to do with my wife.

I feel born again and I want to act born again. I want to draw on and use the new-found strength that knowing Jesus is giving me. Knowing Jesus is by me is a pleasure, and I want to rejoice in that pleasure and bring that light to the world around me.

What does that mean exactly? I don’t quite know. Solving problems at work, loving my wife — practically as well as adoringly.

We’ll see how it pans out, but the phrase “born again” will remind me of this ambition.

Handling episodes of failure

Any real-world system will fail occasionally. A robust (resilient, sustainable, etc.) system must not only avoid failure as much as possible; the system must also handle whatever failures do happen. This post is about handling those failures.

A failure might be more than a single event. There might be a losing of one’s balance, then a period of being out of balance, then balance being restored. By an “episode” of failure, I mean this whole process, with three phases:

  • falling in the hole
  • being in the hole
  • climbing out of the hole

The whole episode might be over in minutes, perhaps it might be hours, or even days, or longer, …

n.b.: examples in this post will be from temper loss or cigarettes (I used to smoke, from early 80s to late 90s). The actual failures I am dealing with are to do with using pornography.

Falling in

At the time the fall might be too sudden to notice until after it’s happened. Looking back, the fall can be seen as a drawn out slide. The first thing then is to learn to recognise what is happening as it happens.

I should recognise what is happening. I shouldn’t kid myself on that something else is going on. If I am gradually losing my temper, I should recognise that and acknowledge it. I shouldn’t allow myself to make up some story to explain away what I’m doing.

I should try to identify what has pushed me on to this slope. It might be tiredness or boredom or enfored tedium at work; it might be a verbal battering from my wife; the ensuing feeling of a lack of agency; it might be something more idiosyncratic or even random.

Once I have recognised that I am on the slippery slope, I should fight back. There is no need to lose my balance completely over every nudge. Throw in diversions: go and eat an apple; physically remove myself from the situation: go into another room, go for a walk; find and do a small well defined task: wash the dishes, reply to an email. The smartphone or tablet is an easy portal into sin – oil for the slippery slope — make sure it is parked on the other side of the room. Always resist.

I can resist, I can fight back, and I might be able to claw my way out without falling all the way in.

However, sometimes, at some point, there will come a time when it is better to concede defeat rather than to battle on. Two examples from giving up smoking:

  • desperate for a fag I am raging about in a foul mood and can think of little else but whether or not I should have a cigarette. This is helping nobody. I should have a smoke, clear my head and improve my mood. The thing here will be to have a consciously “remedial” smoke, recognise that as “completion” (see below), and to climb back out of the hole asap.
  • nights out on the town were always the hardest for giving-up smokers. One thing I (and some others) did, was to have a cigarette late afternoon before going out. This would stop cravings, and strengthen will-power during the night out. A stitch in time saves nine.

All through the resistance I should draw strength from having Jesus by my side, turn to scripture and Christian, encouraging texts, be open to the Spirit moving within me to lift me out.

However, once I have conceded defeat and realised/decided that I am falling in the hole, I should not leave Jesus behind. I would fall in and be away from “all that” and not want to go back. I should grab hold of Him and drag Him in with me.

This idea has only just occurred to me and I don’t quite know what it means. I should remember that my sins are forgiven — not at some time afterwards, but forgiven already. Even while I sin I am forgiven already and being forgiven. I should remember that, not as a licence to sin, but as a way of infecting or contaminating the sin, and my urge to sin, with God’s grace. Practically, that might put me off the sinning, or it might lift me out of it sooner rather than later.

Dragging Jesus down into my own little hell sounds desperate, yucky and upsetting for me, and even evil, but there it is. It’s an idea.

Being in

Once in the hole I wallow there, indulging and nurturing my bad mood (replace with sinful behaviour of choice). I have turned away and separated myself from Jesus and I don’t want to turn back.

Why do I do that? I feel as if turning back would be a defeat. Really it would be a victory.

Once I have fallen in the hole I should recognise — admit explicitly to myself — what has happened. I should recognise it as a defeat. If I didn’t manage to drag Jesus down with me I should call on Him now — either to lift me out or to just be with me in this little hell.

I should not fear judgement, and I should not judge myself.

I should not dig myself deeper into the hole. As soon as I realise I am in there I should start climbing out.

Climbing out

An episode can have a false finish — I think I am out but I quickly fall back in — so climbing out means *really* climbing out.

I sometimes think: something caused me to fall in the hole; some “issue” must be “resolved” before I can climb out properly. But often, e.g. if I am nursing a bad temper, something quite random and irrelevant will lift my mood away; sometimes I can lift myself out by reasoning or by dwelling on something else. Perhaps thinking I have to stay in the hole until I can “resolve” something is a trickery to keep me in there.

I *can* just decide to climb out. I *can* decide to stay out.

One easy opportunity to climb out is at the end of the day. Unfortunately, for me, these episodes can last several days. That means at some point in the morning, I decide to continue my sinful behaviour.

I should overcome my reluctance to turn to Jesus while I am in the hole. I think my desire to stay in the hole is some kind of generalised resentment. If I can convince myself that, even in the middle of it all, Jesus can be there for me — he didn’t cast a stone either, after all the others had gone — it will be easier to pray in the evening, and hand everything over to God, and in the morning to take pleasure in being out of the hole.

Once I am out of the hole, I should recognise the end of the episode — I should assert it, draw a line under it. At the first opportunity I should reflect on the episode as a complete thing: with a beginning, a middle and an end. I should pray in explicit detail for forgiveness (C. S. Lewis makes that point in Mere Christianity), and give thanks that I am out.

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