Mark Herringshaw

Wonders Never Cease

Making the best from the worst

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 11:22 am on Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I’m not much of a wine expert.  If it came to a taste test I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a rare import and cough syrup.  But this last week I stumbled across and interesting fact that – given my inclination – led me to an interesting spiritual application.  They say (the experts in winemaking) that the very best wines are made from grapes grown at the very climatic edge, at the point where that particular variety of grape is most vulnerable to cold temperatures.  Also, the best of the best wine grapes grow in the worst of soils, on rocky hillsides where the roots have to deep to find nutrients.  Point: the best fruit and the sweetest wine grow in the hardest of places!  

Paul says (Galatians 5:22) that the intent of the Holy Spirit is to make my character reflect the nature of Jesus.  The Spirit actually doesn’t do this by making me like Jesus but rather by living Jesus’ life through me.  Paul describes this process as the “fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  

So how does he grow this precious fruit inside of me?  By putting me into the roughest environment and the poorest soil he can find!  He does this not because he is mean or uncaring, but because he knows that to get good fruit he has to push me to my limit.  

Where does kindness grow?  When someone is most particularly unkind to me, pushing me to respond in the opposite mode.  And patience? When I’m in a situation where urgency seems imperative. The fruit of the Spirit grows inside of challenging relationships and impossible situations. 

Today I am praising God for the grinches and grouches in my life. I’m thanking God for the pressures he has forced around me. Living on the edge is the best soil for the best wine!   

Over the Legal Limit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 8:32 am on Thursday, June 12, 2008

My name is Mark. I’m a recovering religious addict. Writing Six Prayers God Always Answers is part of my treatment. This blog holds me accountable to sobriety. So if you catch me stumbling back into piety, call me out. I know from experience it happen to me very easily. 

My biggest challenge is my career. Like a sober alcoholic working as a bartender, I’m around my drug of choice 24/7. That makes life very dangerous. I’m a pastor and the son, grandson, and great grandson of pastors. Religion is our family business and I understand the gig. I know the theology of talking to God. I’ve got pretty reasonable answers for most of the questions about prayer. I can teach others how to relate with God and the principles do work for them. I get good kudos for my work. Being a pastor is a task to perform, a task that falls out of my words and deeds with natural ease. So it seems.   

That’s the danger of course. Because I can look religious, my personal relationship with God can easily take on a posture- position without me even knowing it. In the book we call this “The prayer God doesn’t want to hear.” He doesn’t, because it isn’t prayer at all. “Lord help me!” 

Truth is, my relationship with God is the most important relationship in my life. I want it to be real, vital, fresh and natural. I struggle to keep it so because I can’t easily break free from the formulas I master, and masquerade. 

So here’s my commitment: I talk to God secretly; I will continue to do so. He answers in surprising ways; I’ll believe he will continue to do so, and I’ll look in surprising places for his responses. I’ll speak with him naturally, in and through the ordinary rhythms of my life – while I’m brushing my teeth and on the borderlands between waking and sleeping. I’ll look for him to answer with more conversation, not merely more actions. I won’t merely pray “to do” lists; I’ll talk, and I won’t be angry when he keeps the tennis match going without seeming to do anything big. That’s my commitment. 

I am coming to believe that exchanges with God grow like intertwining conversations with a good friend or a lover. The dialog may get lively and randomly off the wall. God may throw in a wild comment about “meatloaf,” and I am perfectly free to ask his opinion about whether or not the Cubs will win the Series. God surprises. I can too. This is the kind of relationship I want to have with him. 

So ask me how I’m faring? I want to know God and be known. That’s all. If you smell religion on my breath, intervene. 


Fighting Like Jesus V

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 4:15 pm on Sunday, April 6, 2008

“Be quiet!”

“Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One sent from God!” Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him (Mark 1:23-26 NLT).

Where is the devil attacking you?

Your enemy is talking.  What are you going to do?  His imps are poisoning the air with the half-truths of white lies. Loser!” one sneers. “Look, they’re laughing at you…” “She always gets her way…” “Go ahead, no one is looking…” “Why not, you deserve it….”  “This will never work for you!” “Make him live to regret that…” Today will be noisy, inside your head and out.

But what do you expect? You are in a war of words. Say something!

Jesus faced noisy days. In chapter one of Mark’s Gospel a demon with no tongue of his own used a broken man to vomit blasphemies. “What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus showed it no tolerance. “Be quiet!” he said. “Come out!” The demon gagged on its own babble, winced and fled. Then Jesus gave the man a new life.

“Be quiet” was enough. Just two words fired a shot heard round the Universe. Jesus faced-down his foes directly, simply, and violently: “Let there be quiet!”

Your enemy is talking. What are you going to do? Talk back! Today you will face noise.  Your enemy intends to dismantle the world. “Let there not be…” he says. But you will not stay silent. You will show no mercy. You will borrow Jesus’ words in Jesus’ name and shut down the nonsense.

Answer envy: “Be quiet!” Answer suspicion: “Be quiet!” Answer distrust and fear and self-pity and lust and anger and gluttony and pride: “Be quiet!” Inside your own soul and on behalf of others, put these two words to work. Then rest easy. 

Your mission: Listen carefully for the slightest deception. Listen for the inaudible, invisible source of the lie. When you identify your target, take aim. Then from under your breath let fly the borrowed words, in Jesus’ name: “Be quiet!” Then rest as the racket dies away.

Question: “Where is the devil attacking?”  Answer: “Be quiet!” 

Fighting Like Jesus iv

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 11:59 am on Thursday, April 3, 2008

Jesus doesn’t say much in Mark’s Gospel. But when he speaks, things happen. Here’s a suggestion. Read the book straight through in one sitting. Read it aloud. Let the cryptic punch of the narrative go to work. As you read, follow Jesus.  Don’t think your way along. Those who first followed Jesus didn’t understand anything about the process before they started. And whatever expectations they had were dead wrong in the end. They simply moved out. Jesus said, “Come along” and then he turned and walked off. He even got them involved first before they understood things. Peter was healing people and casting out demons long before he “confessed” that Jesus was the Christ.

Maybe we have things backward. Maybe we try to get the ideas down first when actually we’re supposed to act and then later come to grips with what it means.

Mark is a book about action. Jesus’ followers starting doing what he did and saying what Jesus said and they got to know him by experience. In time their minds caught up, but to begin with, they just moved. 

I become a Jesus follower – a Christian – in the same way.  I do what Jesus is doing and say what Jesus is saying.  I borrow Jesus exact words and use them in situations like the situations he faced when he lived on earth.  As I leverage Jesus’ words, Jesus himself will be in me “doing his stuff” because Jesus and Jesus’ words are one and the same. People ask, “How do I be a Christian?”  Simple: put Jesus words to work in your life and through your life. Today it can begin.

Here are some pressing questions. These questions frame the challenges we face in life. But Jesus has an answer for every one.
• Where is the devil attacking?  
• Where is their sin – in my life and in the world?
• What is out of control?
• Where is there pain? 
• What am I afraid of? 
• Where is there a need? 
• Am I staying alert? 

Read Mark’s Gospel with these questions before you. Watch Jesus closely.  How does he address these basic human needs? As the stories unfold, imagine doing the same at the “Tuesday moments” of your life.

Fighting Like Jesus iii

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 8:10 am on Wednesday, April 2, 2008

His name means “warrior.” But early on Mark had run scared. We don’t know details, but something happened to set him off. Fear of being mocked or worse?  Fear of losing the security he felt from familiar surroundings? Fear of not knowing how to fight to win? Whatever, Mark went AWOL.

We piece together Mark’s story from Acts in the New Testament, a reference in a letter from Paul, the Gospel that bears his name, and from Church tradition. By the end, Mark makes a remarkable recovery and lives and dies, living up to his name - “Warrior.”

As a young man Mark joined Paul and Barnabas when the community of Jesus-followers in Antioch commissioned then to plant churches around the Mediterranean. It proved dangerous adventure that Mark couldn’t endure. Shortly after the mission began Mark turned tail and headed home. Only he could explain why.

Mark surfaces again some months later, after Paul and Barnabas return, meet with leaders in Jerusalem and strategize for another trip. Big-hearted Barnabas wants to give Mark another shot. Paul vehemently objects. The two nearly come to blows over the matter and in the end they split up. Paul takes Silas on planned trip. Barnabas takes Mark and heads to Cypress.

Barnabas saw Mark’s potential as he had once seen Paul’s potential when other Christians couldn’t trust him. Barnabas had a heart to restore Mark; Paul had the task to accomplish. Both good causes, but rooted in different values.

Paul succeeded. So did Barnabas. Mark grew up, and out of his fear. Tradition says that Mark became a colleague of Peter and in time the leader of the North African church of Alexandria. Mark was martyred during the persecutions of Nero. In the end he didn’t run away.

Not long before his death Mark had a novel idea, literally. Having listened carefully to Peter’s retelling of Jesus’ life and teachings, he decided to write the stories in a narrative. The result was the Gospel of Mark. Taking Mark’s example, Matthew, Luke, and John followed with accounts of their own filling in details Mark did not originally include.

The tone of Mark’s account is bold. He wrote for Romans who valued practical action. Mark’s Jesus is a man of action, at war with the demons of hell and their human allies. Yet Jesus fights, not with a sword or political maneuvers but with a few, powerful chosen words.

Mark conquered his fears and became what his name denotes. He became a warrior who fought as Jesus fights - with a few choice words. As Mark borrowing from Jesus, so can we by wielding his simple, practical, powerful statements of truth.

Fighting Like Jesus ii

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 12:41 pm on Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It’s a hell of a world and life is hard. The fight we face goes to the death. God created this world with words. Now his Enemy and ours tries to foil God’s plans. His foul mouth steals and bends words that break things and kill people. Jesus came to silence these lies. Their collision has ignited a deadly war of words.

Jesus dealt the decisive blow when he hung on the cross, and said, “It is finished!” Words enough! We follow up and enforce that victory when we borrow Jesus’ words that scatter the devils and repair the damage they have wrought.

When all else fails – and all else will – we borrow Jesus’ words.

Our enemies attack on nine fronts. We meet and defeat them with borrowed words. Jesus fought here ahead of us. He has faced down and turned back every assault. As followers of Jesus we do the same by simply leveraging what Jesus said in the moment we face battles of our own.

We do not presume to be like Jesus. Only Jesus is Jesus. We speak Jesus’ words “in Jesus’ name” which means “on Jesus’ behalf.” The question is not “What would Jesus do?” but “What is Jesus doing?” and “How can I join him?” Our commission is simple: say what Jesus said! That’s our assignment. For Jesus’ words in our mouths are as Jesus’ words in his. 

We will not have the luxury of learning war in theory. Our training comes on the front lines, where we work, live, go to school, and buy our groceries. There we must execute… or be executed. 

We are in battle, in a hell of war that is now on earth as it was in heaven. It is a war that will end all wars, a conflict where words always become flesh. So for God’s sake, say something! But choose your words ever so carefully!

In the beginning was the Word; in the end will be the Word. And when all is said and done, all will be done when all is said!  


Fighting Like Jesus i

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 1:16 pm on Monday, March 31, 2008

“Be quiet!”
“Be clean!”
“Be still!”
“Be free!”
“Be unafraid!”
“Be opened!
“Be careful!”
“Be yours!”
“Be alert!”
Words of Jesus from The Gospel of Mark

Say something, for God’s sake!  When Jesus shows up things happen. When he shows up he uses words and the world is recreated. Words are Jesus’ weapon of choice and his tool of design. He could hurl lightning bolts, or split mountains with his fist, or with a wave of his hand toss the armies of the planet into the sea. Instead, Jesus says things. For words, when they are the right words, spoken by the right messenger, are enough.

At the start of his ministry Jesus explained his mission in words that Isaiah the Prophet had borrowed from God:“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
Luke 4:17-19.  

Jesus claimed this as his commission – to proclaim things as they ought to be. Everything Jesus does follows what he first says; and everything Jesus says echoes what God said seven centuries earlier through Isaiah.

·         Jesus’ words fed those in need. With words he turned water to wine and multiplied bread and fish – twice. Jesus’ words were enough to make enough and make provision a sign of his regime.

·         Jesus’ words pardoned the guilty. With words he declared a leper “clean” and a prostitute “forgiven.” Jesus’ words were enough, with grace enough to make pardon a sign of his regime.

·         Jesus’ words healed the broken. With words he declared a blind man whole and dead girl alive. Jesus’ words were enough, with power enough to make healing a sign of his regime.

·         Jesus’ words expelled demons. With words he drove out a legion of spirits and silenced a blasphemer. Jesus’ words were enough, with authority enough to make deliverance a sign of his regime.

·         Jesus’ words revealed Father’s love. With words he told stories of victory in this world and hope in the next. His words were enough, with vision enough to make favor a sign of his regime. 

What if following Jesus was really this simple? Just five things we learn to receive and give away?

Getting an Angle on Jesus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark at 7:40 pm on Saturday, March 22, 2008

Proximity to Jesus is relative to motion. Intimacy has nothing to do with where we stand, close to him or distant. It has everything to do with movement in his direction or not.

Ask Zacchaeus. His story is in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was a tax robber who climbed a tree to get close to Jesus. By his lifestyle he stood a long distance off. But then in his moment of truth he turned and moved in the right direction. The moment he started, at that instant he came as close to Jesus as he could or would ever be. Weird, isn’t it.
The Pharisees on the other hand stood by Jesus close at hand. They were oh so close to the words and ways of God. But that was just their problem – they stood. God moves. Fast. And they never kept up.

So in our time who is better off, a 35 year veteran of Christendom with badges and pins on his vest, a spotless saint who’s never risked one dastardly deed or one great step of faith, or a lecherous gambler who one day, on a broken whim turns and starts a long, slow desperate trek toward the light?

Those who move with Jesus, or at least move toward him are strangely close to perfect. It’s the weird, upside down, quantum mechanics of the Kingdom. Position means nothing. Direction means everything.

Rest and the Rest Will Follow

Filed under: General, Leadership — Mark at 11:26 am on Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I believe everything that is truly worth anything begins from rest. And so, before launching this Blog – something I’ve pondered and planned and procrastinated for some time – I took a day off.

I rested yesterday.  I am tempted to say “I did nothing” but that would be a lie. I took a nap. I spent time talking with people dear to me. I thought about and documented two weird dreams I had the night before. I listened to Bach and a spring training baseball game on the radio. I played catch with my son. I ate cookies – which are off limits to me on other days when I’m more focused on goals. I laughed at our puppy. Resting took effort, but now I’m rested.

And now I’m ready to begin another kind of effort. I want to start a conversation about God and how our habits instigate or agitate our relationship with Him. It’s an ancient question well worn. I doubt any of us can find anything truly original to contribute. But if we dig we might unearth something usable but long forgotten.

Here’s the first question: Does everything that is truly worth anything begin from rest? What do you say?

We were made for work. Even before our ancestors screwed up the planet they tended the Garden of God. But from the start rest was God’s gift to demonstrate that work has limits. We are not slaves to our own efforts.

To make this simple God instituted one day in seven as Sabbath. In Sabbath God tames our fears. Fear is our dominant emotion stemming from our survival instinct, the strongest of our drives. When my life is threatened, fear takes charge. When I work, I push back threats to my survival. I meet my own needs. But when I deliberately cease work, even when all the evidence says I need to press on, I give my fear to God. Sabbath is a deliberate act of trust. I say, “I know you will take care of me.” Sabbath laughs at fate and sets me care-free. When I practice Sabbath I defy the fear of death and trust God to provide my daily bread.

There is something miraculous about a formal day of rest. Sabbath has a power that forces the world to comply to rules that run counter to common sense. 6/7 > 7/7. Call it “God’s math.” We can’t prove this law, but we can demonstrate it. I get more done in six days following a day set aside to foster relationships, than I do blasting through seven days straight at the grindstone. Less makes more.

Some say the day of rest must come on the last day of the week. For most Christians it falls on the first day. This fits our understanding of grace. Grace means that work grows out of rest, rest doesn’t grow out of work. I don’t earn a relationship with God. My work grows from my relationship with God. Jesus worked on my behalf; I rest first.

The tide of our culture runs against a Sabbath. I don’t find much sympathy when I make “rest” my excuse for saying “no” to other’s plans for my life. But when I stick to my commitment, when I push aside the guilt and ignore necessary things until tomorrow, my world expands. Time is relative to rest. And my relationship with God is relative to rest. I have yet to take a deliberate day of rest and not hear God speak something fresh to me.   

  • How does rest work in your life?
  • Which day for you is best for rest?
  • If rest means a focus on relationships (with God and others) what rhythms and patterns and rituals do you follow to help this happen?
  • How would you like to rest more?