Tag Archives: #discipleship

We are not in stasis while in isolation – we can grow and thrive despite our circumstances

OK we’re into the second or third week of working from home, home schooling, online church and gatherings limited to 2 people. It seems a bit surreal. We got all geared up like we were preparing for a couple of weeks of weird holiday and now things are starting to settle, the reality that this is our normal for the foreseeable future is setting in. That means that the current “survival mode” is how things will be for maybe 6 months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in survival mode for months on end. That means treading water. That means just existing.

No. There has to be more to this time than that. If nothing else, so we can keep our mental health strong, there has to be more than just existing.

So what to do?

I’m about to mention 3 people who we are definitely NOT, but they serve to illustrate a point.

William Shakespeare is thought to have written King Lear while in some form of quarantine from the plague. We don’t know if that’s true or not but its plausible and certainly possible. Between 1603 and 1613, because of plagues and sickness, Shakespeare’s theatre (the Globe) and other theatres in London were shut for more than 60% of the time. So it’s not unrealistic to say he did a lot of writing while in some form of lock-down.

The reconstruction of the Globe Theatre in London. Source: https://teach.shakespearesglobe.com/fact-sheet-third-globe

In 1665, there was more plague and Sir Isaac Newton went to Woolsthorpe Manor to get away from it. He was there for 18 months and he started to develop his theory of gravity there, as well as working on his revolutionary theories in calculus.

Woolsthorpe Manor - west facade.jpg
Woolsthorpe Manor. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolsthorpe_Manor#/media/File:Woolsthorpe_Manor_-_west_facade.jpg

Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon while in prison. We know these as canon, of course, but for Paul, these were just letters. Legend surrounding Paul’s time in prison says he performed a miracle there which suggests that he was active in his evangelism as well as his written pastoral guidance.

Ancient prison which housed St Peter re-opens in Rome
Carcer Tullianum, Rome’s oldest prison (3,000 years old) where Peter and Paul are said to have been held. Source: https://www.thelocal.it/20160714/ancient-prison-which-housed-st-peter-re-opens-in-rome

Now I don’t know about you, but I am not going to invent some mathematical theorem – I can’t even help my 8-year old son with his year 3 homework. And very few of us are Shakespeare. Even less of us are Peter and Paul.

But what these people show us is:

  1. They went from existing to living life and even thriving. I’m sure that going to Woolsthorpe Manor or hunkering down somewhere in London required some modification of behaviour given what they couldn’t do. But then they clearly then moved onto what they could do.
  2. They used their skills. Shakespeare wrote. Newton did deep thinky brain work. Paul guided. These were all skills that they took into quarantine with them and they allowed to breathe within those confined spaces.
  3. They used their brains. They thought, they worked, they stretched themselves which takes people beyond existing and into thriving.
  4. It involved new things. In so doing, they created new things, even learned to do new things. This is so key in mental health. It keeps our view on things bigger than our current situation. It gives us a focus on possibility, hope, a larger world.
  5. They saw opportunities. When in quarantine or prison, if you can’t do this, then maybe I can do that. Paul couldn’t visit the churches so he wrote to them. Charles Benson Barnett was a missionary with the famous James Hudson Taylor. When he was forced to return to Australia because of ill-health, he founded Sydney Missionary and Bible College. He couldn’t go, so he trained others.

Jesus himself told us that he came so that we might have life to the full. There is no caveat to that – he didn’t say “unless there’s a pandemic and you’re in lock-down”. He came so we could have life to the full all the time. That is what is available to us no matter where we are.

So how can we use our brains? Where can we see opportunities? In saying this I recognise that Shakespeare, Newton and Paul either didn’t have children or had someone else taking care of them – and they didn’t have another day job that they were working-from-home on. But within the restrictions that we have, how can we look upwards and outwards? How can we do something new?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Decide on a goal that you have for your isolation time, for example:
    • I want to grow as a disciple
    • I want to learn a new skill
    • I want to expand my brain
    • I want to build community
    • I want to strengthen others
    • I want to spread God’s word
  • Then, depending on what goal you have identified, you can set out some tasks you want to commit to, like:
    • Commit to listening to a podcast series that is edifying and will expand your thinking and your faith. Try Lionel Windsor’s Lift Your Eyes or Risen Motherhood. I listen to these on Spotify but they’re available wherever you get your podcasts
    • Start looking at YouTube videos if you want to learn how to knit or crochet or learn the rules of cricket or how to draw cartoons
    • Get online books to work through an author or series (I’m currently working through the Narnia books)
    • Work through a devotional book with your family and/or an online group who you’ve never met with before
    • Write letters of encouragement (on your own or with your kids) and post them to your neighbours
    • Meet online with someone who’s on the church periphery to read the Bible and pray together
    • Start a blog or a journal to map your life during this time – it may make for a pretty interesting record in a couple of decades!
    • Look for ways to support others who are less self-sufficient. These are strange times and these are scary times. For some of us, it’s trying to do normal work and life from home. For others it is losing our jobs and potentially a lot more. If you are in the former group, what can we do for the latter? Even if its making an extra meal once a week, sending notes to those who live alone, or committing to buy a few extra groceries for someone every week, or forming a prayer triplet to pray for those you know in your church doing it tough – all these are good. What else might there be?

There are lots of ways we can use our brains and thrive as individuals, as families and as a community so that during this time we aren’t just treading water. We want to come out of this stronger, not having just existed. Not exhausted from the work and the home schooling and the parenting in isolation (although many of us will be), but having found opportunities to thrive. Not beaten down from the fear and the worry (although that is a definite factor), but finding ways to live life in the kind of abundance that Jesus talks about. Being in him. Growing in him. Reaching our families, reaching our communities, thinking bigger than ourselves.

Lets do what we need to do. But then lets use our brains, and our skills. Lets learn new things and look for opportunities. Lets set goals – even small ones. Lets keep our eyes upwards an outwards so we take care of ourselves and our families, but always look for ways to look beyond ourselves.

In Christ, well that is thinking bigger. It would be easy, in a time of uncertainty, to keep our eyes down and do what needs to be done. But lets make sure we keep our eyes on him. If we look to him first, we can live and survive, but we can grow and thrive too.

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11)

The prayer which gives an instant diagnostic on the health of my faith

We’ve all had those dark times. The relationship that fails. The job opportunity that disappears. The medical results that will blow your reality apart. The financial hits that keep coming.

When I had that time in my life, I leaned on God like I had never leaned on him before – not because I was an amazing disciple, but because it was instinct, and it was because he was all I had. I absolutely had nothing else to lean on.

I would pray every day for things to get better. They didn’t for a long time and for a while got worse. On one hand it felt like he was stripping things away from me. On the other it felt like he was preparing me for something. But, I remember thinking at the time, is that what we tell ourselves when things are not going as we had hoped? Is that the comfort we give ourselves? Like we are some kind of walking inspirational meme?

But we can’t think like that, because its by faith that we lean on God and trust that in his sovereignty he is working things for his own plans and purposes. If we discount that as false self-comfort, we are discounting faith. Believing in God’s sovereignty and providence is an entirely biblical premise.

Paul in Romans 8 talks about his present sufferings being nothing compared to the glory to come. And he talks about the Spirit helping us and interceding for us when we don’t even have the words to say.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)

I remember not knowing what to pray for and starting to pray the Lord’s prayer. I felt so helpless, I didn’t even have my own words.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

When I got to the bit about “your will be done” I couldn’t go on. Everything is his will – what if he was stripping things away from me? What if he was pushing me somewhere I didn’t want to go? What if he was pushing me towards something I didn’t want to do? What if the worst possible situation that I could imagine was his will?

Here’s the thing though. I was scared of God’s will because it was not my will. My will was about things getting easier as quickly as possible. His will for my life could be anything.

I didn’t know what God’s will for me was, but I knew it was more intricate and applied with infinite knowledge and wisdom. And I knew it is for my good.

That didn’t make it any easier but it started to help my mental processes and my spiritual strength. It meant I could pray for God’s will to be done, but ask for it to come with the kindness of strangers, or for it to play out with some help and guidance. I realised its OK to ask for things like that. Because the main thing is in praying for God’s will to be done and to believe it will be done.

And thats when I realised that this was revealing something quite amazing about the health of my faith. I was scared of praying for God’s will because I believe that it will be done.

That realisation gave be a feeling of enormous spiritual strength. I believe. Among the darkness and chaos and uncertainty, my faith was so strong that I truly believed God’s will would be done in my life. I believed it so much I was scared to pray it because I knew it would happen and that there was a possibility it wouldn’t align with my will for my life.

The confidence it gave me was huge. The strength it gave me was massive. I could pray to God for his will to be done, knowing my faith was strong and that he would eventually work all things for my good because I love him.

Now, with my life far more settled, I don’t know if what I’m living at the moment is God’s ultimate will or what comes next will be – who knows? But I have seen his divine providence over the years and I believe that he has, and is, working for my good.

From time to time now I pray the Lord’s Prayer – its a good thing to do, but it also gives me an instant diagnostic about how my faith is. Do I still feel scared to pray that his will be done in my life? If it is, I know I am close to him. If it isn’t, or isn’t as strong, I know I might be slipping into spiritual laziness.

Not that I want to be scared of God’s will as a punitive or disciplinary thing – merely that to be fearful of God’s will means being open to God pushing me outside of my comfort zone. It means knowing that God’s will for my life (which could be anything) takes precedence over my will for my life (which involves a lot more comfort and security). And that, to me, is scary.

So, if I feel my fear of the Lord slipping into complacency, I go back to scripture. I go to Exodus, I go to Psalms, I go to the cross. Anything that drives me back to God’s infinite power, sovereignty, love and grace.

That’s where I see his love for me. That’s where I draw my comfort – not in his ability to give me a comfy life, but in his salvation of the whole world, and the intricate working of his activity in our day to day lives.

The pitfalls of “Oh so relatable”

It’s nice when people say they like my stuff. I write about things because they are issues that I wrangle with, or because its bits of the Bible I like, or sometimes just because I’m a chronic over-sharer. But when people say “oh, she’s so relatable” I feel a little worried and I have to assess what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. Not because I don’t want to be relatable, but because “relatable” has taken on a meaning of its own these days.

To relate to someone used to simply mean, to empathise or make a connection with someone. “To relate” was a verb – a doing word. These days, to be relatable means showing characteristics, attitudes and behaviours that are considered “the norm”, or that are thought to be the position of the most people. Saying someone is relatable means they represent that majority. It’s a noun – something we ascribe to someone.

The trouble is that terms like “relatable” have become woven into our modern fabric of what is considered to be what normal and reasonable people think and feel. And that’s a judgement call based on what side of a particular issue you’re on.

No more so than in Christian circles. We are called to be growing disciples of Jesus who gather in His name and are a priesthood of believers, displaying His glory to the ends of the earth.

How we do that has been a matter of great conjecture throughout history.

On one end of the spectrum, you might have Humanity – by that I mean all compassion, all about the feels and the person. At the other end you have Theology – and by that I mean dry and lifeless and highly academic. On that spectrum then the application might end up as Relatable on the one side and Sanctimonious on the other. See my diagram below (and if you follow me regularly, you’ll know I do all my own graphics).

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If we are all about the Humanity, we can fall into the trap of thinking God just wants us to be happy, or that God is all about love (but forget the judgement for sin part). It can even make us so indistinguishable from the world – so relatable in fact – that we don’t look Christian at all.

On the other hand, if we all about the theology, we can forget that our churches are made of real life people who live in the real world with difficult jobs, and fractured relationships, and high anxiety and eating disorders and abuse and debt and all the things that go along with being a human. We can be so academic in our theology that we forget to care. We become sanctimonious, dolling out judgement from our ivory tower – forgetting that we are called to love as well as to teach and correct.

We need both Theology and Humanity. I don’t mean that we go half way and sit on the fence without going one way or the other. No, we are Christian and we will boast in Jesus Christ and that precludes fence sitting. It calls for boldness and it calls us to be active participants in the gospel.

How do we do that with Theology and Humanity? We need to know our scriptures so we can be discerning and wise in our own lives, and true and honest Christian brothers and sisters to each other. We need enough theology that we know when to correct each other and hold each other accountable, but we need enough Humanity so we can support each other in love and understand the context we are all coming from.

If I am a sanctimonious ass, I will not be able to talk to drug addicts or porn addicts or prisoners or people who are bonking outside of marriage, or divorcees, or transvestites, or people who have fallen away or drunkards or people who have been abused or gay people – or anyone who is outside what I think is proper.

If I am a relatable flake, my theology might be cherry picked to fit what will make people happy, or make them like me more. I might even not have a good grounding in the Bible, either because my focus is on the people rather than the scripture, or because I read it, but don’t study it theologically.

So I want to be relatable – but as a Christian would understand it. I want to re-define this term for Christians. We should be relatable in that we acknowledge our failings and flaws. We empathise with each other and seek to understand where we are coming from. We walk with people who are not the perfect model (which is about 100% of us!). This is what Jesus did – he walked with people. He sought out the people who were the opposite of the perfect model. He hung out with criminals and outsiders and foreigners. He talked to them. He loved them. He brought them along with him.

But he pulled no punches in his teaching. He corrected them. He rebuked them. He told them the truth.

Jesus was relatable (he was fully man as well as fully God). Jesus had humanity – he understood people and treated them with love and compassion. Jesus had the ultimate wisdom of theology – he taught clearly and explicitly what following meant, both in terms of our eternal salvation, as well as the cost to us in this life.

Our theology needs to be applied in real life contexts. That doesn’t mean we bend the theology to fit. But it does mean that we lift our theology off the page and apply it unique and individual situations – just like Jesus did.

So hopefully I am relatable in that I am a single mum of two boys, holding down a full time job, studying theology part time and writing instead of doing any housework. But hopefully I also apply what I am learning through Christ in wise and discerning ways – imperfectly, but trying.

To help us all do that, I can highly recommend some kind of formal study. There are heaps you can do online – and from any country:

There are others you can do on campus or by evenings/intensives (I’ve been doing a Bachelor of Theology by this method for the last 6 years at Sydney Missionary and Bible College):

And if you think that’s not for you – maybe think again. The last time I was at uni, we hand wrote our essays and laughed at why we would need this new-fangled thing called the “world wide web” when we had a library just over there!! That’s how fast the world has moved since the 90s. I’m just saying maybe you could do this, individually or with your study group.

But, in the meantime, if you want to do some more reading to supplement your Bible study, these authors are a good source (some are more nerdy than others, but its good to have a range, right?):

You can also keep up to date with conferences – my readers in other countries – please leave comments on good conferences where you are (although they also have online resources at some of these below)! In Australia:

So lets be real people, people. But let’s know our theology and lets live it, with obedience and wisdom and reverent awe, faith and joy – and with our eyes on him.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

 

Growing in Christ-likeness doesn’t mean giving up your personality

Do you snort when you laugh? Do you get frustrated with your kids? Does your house look like a bomb site? Do you like a drink with dinner? Do you like dressing up? Do you laugh at slightly inappropriate things? Does the odd swear word slip out?

You’re not alone.

A follower recently reached out expressing anxiety and confusion about what she was supposed to look like as a follower of Christ. And she is not alone either.

The anxiety comes from two things. First, we compare ourselves to others. Second, we know that we are not matching up to what we see in the Bible.

Let’s take comparison. We all know we do it, and we all know it’s a fatally flawed way of looking at the world. But we still do it. We compare ourselves to those people in church who are just amazing at doing Christian life. We compare ourselves to Instagrammers who post filtered shots of themselves hanging out in a beautiful garden with coffee and a Bible. We compare ourselves to the people we see on Facebook who talk about how intentional they’re being in their Christian parenting or how blessed they are to be serving madly at everything.

That’s not me, we think. I feed my kids toast for dinner when I’m too tired to cook. I waste too much time looking at cat videos when I’m lying in bed at night, knowing I should be going to sleep. I like to hang out with the girls over a drink and laugh a little bit too loudly. I’m not godly. I’m not this picture of quiet Christian respectability.

When we compare ourselves to what we see in the Bible, we feel inadequate, small, helpless. I don’t have the faith of the bleeding woman or the disciples that drop everything and go, or Paul, or Barnabas or Timothy. They gave everything. They lived their faith deeply and passionately.

That’s not me, we think. I like wearing nice clothes. I like going out for dinner. I like having enough money to go on holiday.

Here’s the thing though. We need to stop trying to measure up to other people. Firstly, because they have their stuff going on as well. They aren’t perfect. And if they are further along the Christian journey that us, we need to look to them for inspiration, not comparison. Talk to them. Learn from them. But see them as the real, flawed humans that God knows they are. Only God is perfect.

Also, have confidence in yourself. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says “By the grace of God I am what I am.” God made us in his image and He saved us at our most broken. We are how we are because of God and He loves us. And we are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) – we are supposed to be jars of clay! So we don’t glory in our brokenness, but we can recognise it and take heart that God loves us and chose us because of who we are in and of ourselves, not in spite of what we’ve become.

That’s not to say we can’t improve. We should and we must. But not because we come out unfavourably by comparison to other flawed humans – because we are so deeply grateful to God that it spurs us to action. This spur is a response to what God has done. If we don’t feel this spur, then we need to go back to the cross. It means we have forgotten (as humans are prone to do) or drowned out the truth of the cross with the noise of the world. We need to re-remember and re-orient ourselves back to Him.

We also need to be close enough to Him (through prayer and mediation) and His word (through Bible reading, church and small groups) to be able to self-reflect. I am me, by the grace of God I am what I am – but where are my rough edges? Where do I need to rein in my worldliness? We do this by looking at our motivations. You might like to wear nice clothes. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. But are you wearing them because you are wanting to attract attention? Are you wearing them to show off?

Similarly, if you’re posting things on Facebook, is it to share joyfully? Or deep down, is it to show off? To make others feel a little jealous?

If we look at our motivations honestly, it will show us where our rough edges and blind spots are – where we need to do some business with God and ask the Holy Spirit to help us progress this good work that Jesus started in us. It is OK to be motivated by taking pleasure in things God has blessed us with. It’s not OK to want to dabble in sinfulness, or lead others into sinfulness too. That’s a sign our hearts are not where they should be – and again, we need to go back to the cross.

J. C. Ryle in his book Holiness (I HIGHLY recommend reading it – it speaks beautifully and truthfully into this issue) says “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within. He may be known by his warfare as well as by his peace.”

This is so true. We have the peace of God, and yet we struggle with our sinfulness. And bizarrely, that’s a good sign. It means we are aware of humanity’s proneness to wander. It means we are struggling with things we are supposed to be struggling with. But the struggle is not the star of the show. God is.

This is a journey and the focus is God. See my awesome sketch below showing the journey…..

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We are broken and imperfect but we are justified. We are sinful but we are being sanctified. And Jesus will complete this good work in us but we have agency and the ability to make choices.

This does not mean that a sanctified person becomes some kind of Christian robot. We are not all supposed to be clones. You are YOU. God loves us in all our uniqueness and rubbishness. In God we can be more ourselves than anywhere else because He knows us inside out – there is no hiding from Him.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).

The Christian journey is not about fading into the shadows so that we all merge into an amorphous Christian blob. We let our sinfulness diminish as our focus on Christ increases. And we keep our unique personality and experience that has shaped us, just re-oriented toward God, rather than ourselves. That remains just as unique and individual in how that re-orientation is expressed in your life through your personality.

Self-reflect. Learn. Grow. Sanctify. Be yourself, but be yourself for God. And you will be more you than you ever were before.

If God is real, why hasn’t he shown himself? (Mark 9:1-13)

This is an enduring question – for both Christians and non-Christians. For Christians, this can be a question spoken in pain and grief as we seek God’s presence among our trauma. For non-Christians this can be a logical question – if he is real, why doesn’t he just show himself and then we can dispense with all the doubt?

The thing is though, he did show himself. I mean, God was actually with his people in the wilderness and they still grumbled and complained. In that sense, how much evidence is enough? I get that non-believers dismiss the evidence of the Bible. It’s not an unbiased view. But it is the view of the people who believe they saw God. So I understand that people wouldn’t believe unless they themselves had been the witness, but we must allow for the validity of other people’s own experience. We believe things people tell us without witnessing it ourselves all the time. A friend of mine told me about a terrible week she’d had. I believe her, even though I wasn’t a fly on the wall.

Of course, I’m not saying that we should believe everything blindly. That would be unwise. If a biased media tells us something, we should question. If a corrupt authority tells us something, we should fact check. But in checking these things out for ourselves, we must allow for the possibility that its true. We are a very cynical generation. We tend to jump to a conclusion of falsehood almost as a faith position. If we hear something from [insert political leader’s name of your choice here] we may believe or disbelieve them on principle – because we have faith in our position. Its something we believe without any particular evidence either way.

In the same way, some people believe what is in the Bible because it is the eye witness testimony of people who were there. Others won’t believe even if God was travelling with them in the wilderness. That’s to be expected – it’s been the case for thousands of years.

What we see in Mark’s gospel in Chapter 9 is a famous episode called “The Transfiguration”. It’s where Jesus is transformed:

There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4). In Luke, this is expanded to “as he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:29) and in Matthew’s gospel he says “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2).

On first reading this episode sounds like Jesus and Elijah and Moses are having a bit of a group meeting before the move towards Jerusalem and the cross. Perhaps they’re chatting about how things are going or if everything is going according to plan.

Don’t believe it. Nothing here is by accident. The transformation is deliberate. It is a deeply profound episode because people needed to understand three things:

  1. Jesus was not just a man but something else as well. The transformation to this shining being shows the supernatural nature of his humanity.
  2. People needed to see more clearly who he was and who he wasn’t. If he is in the presence of Elijah and Moses here, then he is neither of those people. We have seen in previous passages that there was much conjecture over Jesus’s identity. This shows us clearly that he is someone and something else.
  3. Jesus is in the presence of God. The references to Jesus’ face shining is a reference to Moses’ radiance after his meetings with God (cf. Exodus 34:29-35). Jesus is speaking to God, in person.

Just after this short episode, “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). God himself! And this takes us back to Mark 1:11 where God, during Jesus’ baptism had said “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Why repeat this? Because something new is happening. He spoke these words at the baptism as Jesus’ ministry began. He speaks the words here as we begin the journey to Jerusalem. And the witness is to Peter, James and John who are with Jesus at this episode. Something special is being disclosed to these three.

But Jesus tells them not to say anything until after he has died and risen again. They don’t really understand so instead ask Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (Mark 9:11). This might seem random but Elijah had been mentioned in Malachi’s prophecies. Malachi had said that God “will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5). And if they had just seen Elijah…..what did that mean…..?

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)

This passage is difficult, but can be simply put as the restoration predicted as coming from Elijah’s return will be achieved via the suffering of the Son of Man. The reason it is difficult it because Peter and the rest of the Jews were expecting “restoration” to mean something awesome and celebratory and politically liberating. The truth is much harder to swallow.

So not only did God the Father show himself in this passage, we see God the Son here too. God, with Peter – poor dim-witted Peter and the disciples who could not possibly understand what everything meant until they had seen the cross and the resurrection. But blessed Peter who tried and failed and tried again and followed faithfully. God in person with Peter – and Mark writing Peter’s eye witness account.

God was there. He did show himself.

Do we believe blindly? Partially I suppose. I wasn’t there. But there is enough evidence within the gospel as a historical document to show that it is an eye witness account and not a fable or a story. And there is enough evidence of the resurrection to make me stop and look at what happened in the lead up to it. You see, after the resurrection, hundreds of believers were persecuted, exiled, tortured and executed in the most horrific ways – and not a single one said that their accounts weren’t true. If this wasn’t true, I just don’t believe that so many would suffer for the sake of a lie. And these were eye witnesses – not later converts who died for faith. These were followers of Jesus dying over their very memories.

So I believe that God showed himself to Peter and the others. I believe that God walked the earth with his disciples. I believe that he went to the cross for me. I believe that he rose again and now reigns in heaven and walks with me every day.

And while non-believers are still looking for proof, I am content that there is enough evidence to base my faith on. On days when I am seeking his face in my circumstances, I don’t have to go far to remember that God is with us.

This is a stand alone blog but is also part of a series working through the Gospel of Mark. You can dip into any you have missed here: Studies in the Gospel of Mark

 

It’s not the ends of the banner that are important – it’s what it says in between (Mark 8:1-13)

We always want a sign. Sometimes its because we need to know where we fit in a world that feels big and chaotic. Sometimes its because at times of great uncertainty, we need the comfort of a signpost that shows us where we are going and what the plan is.

This is a completely normal and natural anxiety and yearning for order. It’s why horoscopes are so popular. And it’s not a new problem. Throughout the Old Testament, God warns the Israelites not to engage with spiritualists and diviners. It displays a lack of faith in God. It means they weren’t trusting in God’s promises or his faithfulness. They took things into their own hands. Without any apparent signs from God, they went to find their own signs. And, if they were anything like us, kept looking for signs until they found the one they liked.

I stopped reading my horoscope when I became a Christian (it seemed fairly pointless after you know where you’re going) but I remember when I did read them, that if one was a bit generic (funny that, eh?) then I google another horoscope. And if that one didn’t sound that good, I’d look for another one.

The thing is, the Israelites did have signs. They had God actually with them. So did the people gathered around Jesus. God was actually with them. He was performing sings and wonders all over the place. It was pretty hard to miss. And yet they did.

The place we’ve reached in our Bible studies takes us to a story that seems awfully familiar. In Mark 8:1-13, Jesus feeds the four thousand. In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Is this truth or literary device to make a point? Both would seem likely.

As a truth, what does it tell us?

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present.” (Mark 8:1-9)

It’s a miracle. It points to the fact that Jesus is something more than human. It’s reminiscent of God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus – as they followed and grumbled and complained and God had compassion on them. In Jesus’ compassion, he gave in such abundance that there was seven basketfuls left over.

As a literary device, what does it say? The story and wording is very similar to narrative in Mark 6. This device is like bookends – to draw attention to to what sits between. And what sits between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000?

  • The feeding of the 5,000
    1. Jesus walks on water and calms the storm even though the disciples hearts are hard
    2. Jesus teaches against shallow observance of surface religion and a focus on cleanliness of the heart – re-teaching the intention of God’s commands and away from human rules
    3. Jesus heals the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and teaches the order of salvation, and making it clear that the gospel will be for the Gentiles also
    4. Jesus heals the deaf and mute man
  • The feeding of the 4,000

The feeding stories are the two ends of the banner. What the stories in between tell us is the important part. It tells us that he has the same power as God (point 1), he has the authority to speak for God and interpret God’s communication (point 2), he also has the power and authority to communicate God’s plan (point 3) and his healing activities are foretold by the great prophets (point 4, as foretold by Isaiah).

Taken on their own, the feeding stories are marvelous but people could have interpreted Jesus’ role as a new Moses, who was God’s representative in the wilderness during the provision of manna, quail and water. The stories between the two ends show that Jesus’ role cannot be misinterpreted (for those who have ears to hear that is).

And yet, people do misinterpret. In verse 11-13, after the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 and all the signs in between, the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him for a sign. He tells them there will be no sign. Not because he will not give them any, but because he has given them many but their hard hearts stop them from seeing them. They will accept no sign even though there are signs all around them and God is right in front of them.

I wonder reading this, what signs do I miss? I am a believer and (with God’s help) a growing disciple. But still, where is my hearty hardened? What do I miss? Do I get so wrapped up in my anxieties and worries that I fail to see where God has moved powerfully in my life?

Sometimes, I think we need to strip things back and re-remember who Jesus is. I need to remember how powerful and how present God is in my life. I can get so worried about not knowing whats going to happen or where I fit in that I can try to take things into my own hands. I organise and manage and change the routine and work things so I feel in control of where things are going. Obviously I need to make sure my kids are well and happy and healthy and everyone gets to where they need to be and all that. But outside of that, anything that crosses the line into taking power away from God (as if I could!) shows where I am not trusting Him. As difficult as that is, I need to stop doing that.

How? I need to develop my God-vision. I need to see the signs. I need to be observant and see the hundred little things every day that show me how God is there.

So everyday, take a moment. Think about the day. See where God moved in your life. Remember Him. Remember the cross. Remember God’s promises. Remember His faithfulness.

 

This is a stand alone blog but is also part of a series working through the Gospel of Mark. You can dip into any you have missed here.