Tag Archives: #fellowship

The diagnostic question to ground you when you feel the fear rising

Fear is both rational and irrational. It is a rational response to a perceived or actual threat. When there is a threat that requires a response, fear is the trigger that floods our body with the right biological chemicals for us to meet it. It gives us the energy to fight or flee (if we think in prehistoric terms).

It is also an irrational response though when we put that energy into circular thinking, leading to amplified fears. Fear becomes panic. No matter how we channel that panic, it is unhealthy. Especially when we are working at home, we can be in our heads too much. Unchecked, we can’t help but think of more things to worry about. Fear flourishes when it finds fertile ground. It’s like cancer. And if we let it metastasize, it can have serious negative consequences.

Now, I am a mad fan of connecting with friends and, when need be, psychologists and therapists. Outside of that though, there is a simple diagnostic question that we can use to ground ourselves and stay focused on the positive and the real.

Write down on one piece of paper:

What I believe

Then jot down everything that you currently believe that your fear is feeding – such as:

  • I will not be able to get food for my kids with all the panic buying
  • My parents will get sick
  • I’m going to face financial hardship

There is power in writing it down. It takes it out of your head. It makes it concrete – not just a half shadowy thought. It makes it something to be acknowledged.

So then, write down on another page:

WHAT DO I KNOW TO BE TRUE?

This is where we can write down everything that is a solid truth, like:

  • I have enough food for the next week
  • My parents are in as safe a possible space as we can make for them
  • I don’t have any savings, but I have a job this week, I am surrounded by friends/family who may be able to help, I am a problem solver and I am resourceful IF I face financial hardship – but that has not happened today.

AND because we are Christian, we can also add so many more things we know to be true:

  • God is in control
  • Jesus is my Lord and savior
  • God is faithful
  • God works for the good of those who love him
  • I am a child of God

Write these down. See them in black and white on the page. Know them to be true.

This exercise can be done as many times as you need to and can be done with a friend or trusted colleague. Hopefully this will be grounding enough to help get you through the day. And since one of the things we know to be true is that God communicates with us in the Bible we can meet him there whenever we want.

I’ll admit, in these times of uncertainty, I have felt fear and worry on various days – sometimes rational fears and sometimes irrational. But I have my Bible open on the desk in front of me so at any time I feel wobbly, I can meet God in those pages.

This grounding exercise doesn’t make the fears go away, but it can re-anchor us when negative emotions are starting to rise up.

If the fears are flourishing though, please seek help. Reach out. We need to support each other and we want to as well – reaching out is not a weakness. It is allowing others to support you and, given strength and support, you can then strengthen and support others.

Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

We must be a life-line for those in self-isolation

Whether you’re in Australia, the US, Italy, China, Singapore or Timbuktu, we are all facing the realities of the COVID-19, or corona virus, pandemic. I’m not going to go into the panic buying (although that is shocking) and I’m not going to post prayers as I hope that’s a feature of all our responses as Christians.

What I want to talk about is how we support people in isolation. At the moment that might not be so many, but the number may increase, and potentially quite dramatically.

Parents with kids may look on this with a heavy heart. Some who will be working from home might initially jump at the idea. Some introverts might even look forward to the idea of being able to catch up on all that reading.

But there’s a hidden risk in self-isolation that may only become apparent when we’re in it – and that is an impact to our emotional health and mental well-being.

There are four aspects of this:

  1. We need interaction. Humans are social creatures. Even for us introverts and ambiverts, we need contact and communication. For extroverts, who are energised by being around other people, being stuck in the home can be especially difficult. We can go about our daily routine, work-from-homers can hold our meetings and so on via connective technology, but we’re missing the communication that we get in church, at the play group or at the office that is of vital importance to emotional health and mental well-being. We miss the water-cooler talk, the chats over lunch, the side comments after something funny or annoying happens, the coffee runs, the post-weekend catch ups. In other words, the day-to-day nothingness that enriches our day in community with others. Without it for prolonged periods of time, this can become a slow track into adverse mental health. It provides fertile ground for people being in their own heads too much – unproductive and circular negative thinking – which can lead downwards into depression.
  2. We need a pressure valve. We work in industries and live lives that can involve high pressure situations, whether that means deadlines and aggressive project timeframes, or relentless energy being poured into aging parents or multiple children. One of our coping mechanisms can be the interaction with others in the same situation. It helps us to talk and laugh and blow off steam. Being in isolation can mean that coping mechanism is removed.
  3. People are experiencing fear on top of fear. There have been a lot of scary things happening in the last few months. There’s been the Amazonian and Australian bushfires, floods in Australia and the UK – and now this. These are real life events that we’re used to seeing in disaster movies. Except this is not Hollywood. This is real. This can cause very real feelings of fear and uncertainty. When people are dealing with this on top of their day-to-day real life, this can very quickly become hopelessness. And when people feel hopeless and helpless, they can begin to despair.
  4. The home may represent additional pressure. People’s home lives can come with extra stresses on a normal day, and more so if working/existing in isolation. There could be elderly parents to take care of and kids that becomes extra pressured if fixed within four walls. The home situation might not even be a safe one for them. The world outside the home could be the place that they go to every day that represents safety and security and fellowship. These people could be facing compounded pressures at home during this time that reduces their coping mechanisms. In a time of additional stress and pressure, it could even be a potentially more dangerous place for them.

This sounds very dramatic, but even a fraction of what I’m talking about can mean that we have people working and living in isolation in a way that can have long reaching effects.

As Christians, I would hope that we have a better handle on this supporting people even under normal conditions, let alone a crazy scary time like this. But even we might have to get more creative as we have to limit personal contact and practice social distancing.

What can we do? We need to check in with each other for no reason – create opportunities for that water-cooler talk. Think about doing that over facetime or Skype so you can have a cuppa and see each others faces.

Host a watch party so you can gather as people for something fun and people don’t feel alone. (Even, as a worker from home, host a watch party with you work team of a TED talk or something).

Go back to Old School days and send cards in the mail. Leave notes or flowers or small gifts at people’s doors. Call and pray with people over the phone. Maybe even link everyone in via Skype to have a Bible study – the point is to not just stay connected personally but to stay connected spiritually. When we are under pressure, when there is fear and uncertainty, our faith can take a battering. Remember in the Garden – “Did God really say….?”. All it takes is a shadow of doubt and our faith can fade into the noise of panic. Let God’s light shine in the darkness, even when we are hard pressed on all sides – and help each other to do it. Lets get creative in our care.

There are a lot of ways we can stay connected even when we are far apart. As a community of believers, this is an area we can excel. We are called to have mercy and compassion. Lets get creative with our application so in these uncertain times, we can glorify God and express His character through our outstanding and visible kindness and thoughtfulness.

An open letter from a happy single person on Valentine’s Day

It’s the week before Valentine’s Day. It must be because I’ve started seeing articles and memes about being kind to, and thoughtful of, all the lonely miserable single people. And no doubt that is a thing. Valentine’s Day for many is a reminder of all the things you don’t have. That can be excruciating. Especially when everything everywhere is geared towards rubbing it in your face – 2 for 1 deals for you and that special someone, people forever asking “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day” and even worse, posting their romantic excesses on Facebook. It triggers an extra loneliness because every other day of the year you might feel alone, but on this particular day, you feel super lonely.

We absolutely need to be sensitive to people’s needs around this time.

But lets not assume that every single person is lonely and miserable. I’m single-again (divorced) and decided from the get-go that I would not be in another relationship. So if I was not going to be in a relationship, that means a deliberate choice for single and celibate.

But I am generally a very content alone person. I am happy to be on my own and have a community of Christian brothers and sisters who I can spend time with if I choose. I suppose I miss companionship from time to time – someone to tell about your day, someone to watch TV with, someone to cook with. I guess I feel it the most when times are hard. There’s nobody to fall back on, no one to support you. You have only your own mental and emotional resources and it can be exhausting.

But that doesn’t happen that often in the grand scheme of things and on the whole, I’m very content in my life choice.

How do you “get” that kind of satisfaction? It could be age. Or experience perhaps. It helps that I’m generally very satisfied in my own company. But I have something else. I am content with Jesus.

I can almost hear everybody’s eyes rolling at this point.

I’m not saying “Jesus is my boyfriend” and I’m not saying he is my imaginary friend. I’m saying that an overall happiness in the knowledge of God seeps into a more general state of peace and contentment.

I am also not saying its a silver bullet – an easy fix to “the problem of singleness”. Because it definitely isn’t. Like I said above, some weeks are really hard.

What I am saying is that I don’t see my singleness as a problem. It was my personal choice on theological grounds, but I didn’t (and don’t) see it as a self-flagellating abstinence for the sake of the kingdom.

I see my singleness for what it is – a personal choice, guided by scripture, as to how to live my life.

This seems counter cultural. Our lives are generally focussed on pairing up. It’s a societal norm and cultural expectation. Not being married is to be lacking in something. To not want to be married is something that’s a bit weird.

But Jesus was single.

It’s interesting that in the early church, it was actually celibacy that was exalted to rock-star status. By the time of Martin Luther (and ever since), the pendulum has swung the other way, with the exaltation of marriage. This is problematic in many ways as our churches can be places of great community for families, but much less so for singles, who are seen as “in waiting” til they have spouses of their own.

I’m not waiting. I’m happily single and celibate for the sake of the gospel. I read a lot and I get to know Jesus a little bit more every day, and it is vastly and peacefully satisfying.

I’m not living in a cloister though. I’m living in the world with two kids and a full time job, so how I live out my singleness is just as haphazard and chaotic as anyone else living out their situation.

I live my singleness much the same way that anyone else lives their family situation. It’s not better or worse, its just my life. And I am quite content in it.

So come this Valentine’s Day, if you’d like to know what I’ll be doing – I’m going to see a movie with a mate. It’s an early show because one of my favourite things is also going to bed early, drinking tea and watching TV or reading a book. (Side note: as a younger adult I loved that I could go to bed whenever I wanted. Back then it meant 2 or 3 in the morning. Now it means 9pm).

But, if you need a pick me up, I can highly recommend 7 Myths about Singleness by Sam Alberry. It is solid, biblical, wise and insightful and really should be read by singles and non-singles, because as Alberry points out, everyone will be single again at some point.

The who, the what and the why (Mark 1:21-45)

One thing that I get terrifically irritated by is when someone hijacks my message. I choose my words carefully, I try and articulate myself thoughtfully and then someone willfully mis-communicates me. For example, you can be in a work setting and you present your opinion on solving a particular problem. Someone else chimes in enthusiastically “Yes, yes, I see! I think what you’re saying Julia, is that its all Eric’s fault!” Suddenly everyone is whipped up into a frenzy and there’s practically a hiring freeze on anyone called Eric or sounding anything like Eric.

This can happen in so many settings. At home, with school mums and teachers, and even at church. Sometimes its how the words are offered and sometimes it depends on what ears you listen with.

Note: This is a stand alone blog that doesn’t depend on any other piece. But it runs as part of an online Bible study in Mark and throughout there are links to previous observations. You can dip in and out or start at the beginning if you like. If not, that’s also fine – you don’t need to have started at the beginning to be able to get into this blog.

In today’s passage, Jesus knows what ears people are listening with and is careful to craft what he is communicating. Last week we saw it all started with a bang – like a big opening musical number. Jesus has been very publicly identified as the Messiah, and the Son of God. We saw that these two roles were not necessarily linked in the Jewish consciousness at the time. The Messiah was just someone to be sent by God – not necessarily his Son. They were expecting a prophet, or another David – a knight in shining armor who would arrive on flaming chariots and drive out the oppressive Romans.

In the passage from verses 21-45, Jesus makes some very clear and pointed statements about himself which links him to deeper messages expressed in Old Testament prophecies.

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In verses 21-28, Jesus drives out demons. Now, we see in other places other people driving out demons (check out Luke 9:49) so this doesn’t necessarily announce Jesus as anything truly spectacular. The difference here is that the demons know Jesus. They know who he is. How would the spirits and demons know who he is? In James 2:19, James says to his audience “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that.” The demons are from the spiritual realm – they know the one who is from God and is God. While demons may be driven out by others, they do not know them.

Jesus however has authority. The people were amazed at his teaching (Mk 1:22) because he had authority. We would associate that with someone who has qualifications to teach. But Mark says the people were amazed because Jesus was not as the teachers of the law. The Greek, exousia which is translated here as “authority” carries more weight than we assume. It carries with it a sense of authority delegated by God. It means Jesus’ words were heard by the people and they knew this was no ordinary teaching. The words carried the weight of God himself.

So we had the big opening musical number that announced Jesus’ presence. Now we see he has the authority of God and demons recognise him. Could Jesus be the avenging angel of God come to save the Jews?

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Verses 29-40 remind us particularity of Isaiah 35:5-6. Here, Isaiah prophecies that “the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” These are the very signs of the Messiah in whom, Isaiah 35:2 says “they will see the glory of the Lordthe splendor of our God.” And here is Jesus in vv29-40, healing “many who had various diseases.” (Mark 1:34)

But healing people is not why Jesus came. In verse 28 Jesus says “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” He came to preach the gospel. The healing is so people might know that he is the Messiah. It is so he might communicate that in him, people are seeing the very glory and splendor of God.

But in the same significant passage of Isaiah, the prophecy continues “your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” (Is. 35:4). This is what the Jews were expecting. Yes! A bit of vengeance and some victory on the battlefield. Some smiting and some slaying! Of course we, on this side of the cross, can read this from the perspective of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s righteous judgement. But 2,000 years ago, Jews were looking for a Thor-type hero to come dashing in on a chariot.

This is what Jesus had to avoid. Because it was a very real risk that people, in hearing with ears of desperate hope, could hijack his message and his ministry. In the gospel of John, we read that “after the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say,Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:14-15).

So, Jesus is communicating his messages, but he has to do it carefully – spoon feeding his hearers so they have time to adjust their cultural expectations to be able to hear and understand the truth of why he had come. They were expecting a prophet and a king. They were not expecting God himself, made human, to sacrifice himself for the world. That’s why, when Jesus heals the man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-45, Jesus told him not to tell anyone. Jesus needed to control the message as much as possible. He told the healed leper to present himself to the priests (for giggles check out Leviticus 14:1-32 where people cleansed of skin diseases had to be “cleared” by the priest to re-enter community). But the healed man was not to tell anyone else (which of course he did).

So the thread of this is:

  1. Jesus presence is announced
  2. We begin to see that he is from God by his authority
  3. His actions realise the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-6
  4. Which leads us to realise that we are seeing the very splendor and glory of God (Isaiah 35:2)
  5. Jesus has come to enact God’s vengeance and judgement (Isaiah 35:4)
  6. But not in the way that the people think and so the message has to be carefully controlled and communicated. People need to be able to understand and follow along because –
  7. In Isaiah 35:8-10 Isaiah had continued his prophecy “and a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Jesus is not just here to drive out the Romans. Jesus is here to preach the good news. There is a way, a journey. This is so much bigger than anyone could have anticipated. This is a heart journey.

At this point, Mark’s readers must have been asking each other “what the….?” and “what is this “way”?” Their minds must have been absolutely blown. They must have been on the edge of their seats trying to put it all together in their minds.

This is exactly where the disciples must have been. Everything they thought they knew is kind of right but sort of wrong. Who is this guy? And where is this going?

 

Post me your comments and questions and lets get some online chat going!! And if you want to follow along, I’ll post the next online Bible study about the same time next week 🙂

“Who do you say I am?”

Last week I asked what book of the Bible I should choose if we were to try a follow-along-Bible-study. There were some great suggestions and I was really torn. But with prayer, it seemed to me we should start at the very beginning – with the gospel. You might roll your eyes and wish I’d picked a juicy Old Testament nugget. And I was so close to going with Judges or with Ezra! However, sometimes even the most theologically savvy Christian needs to go back to the beginning and to re-remember who Jesus is.

The gospels are absolute gold mines of wisdom. I am also a crazy history nerd and there’s a lot in the gospels that we miss because we’re not 2,000 year old Jews. So, I’ve chosen the gospel of Mark as our first follow-along-Bible study (acronym FAB – how awesome is that?).

It’s commonly believed that Mark was the first gospel to be compiled, and on which both Matthew and Luke were partially drawn. It’s shorter and it’s written in “fisherman’s language” – that is, unlike Matthew which has quite dense Jewish references, and Luke which is quite polished and lyrical, Mark is clear, simple and down to earth.

The date of this gospel could be anywhere from the mid-50s AD to the late 60s. Clement of Alexandria (writing in the late 100s AD) claimed that it was written while the apostle Peter was in Rome (this was in the 50s or 60s). The early church historian Eusebius (writing in the early 300s AD from memories of earlier church fathers) claimed that Peter actually came to Rome when Claudius was emperor (which would have been more in the early 50s). Church tradition says that Peter was executed in Rome during the reign of Nero (around the mid-60s). There’s no way to tell for sure. What’s interesting though is that while there’s lots of academic reasons for chasing a date, we should remember that even in the 60s, this was a mere 30 years after Jesus’ death. That’s like having a memoir written today for John Lennon or Ronald Reagan. It’s really not that long between events and writing.

Who was Mark? That also is a mystery. Popular tradition has it that he was Peter’s interpreter. This mainly comes from Papias who was a Christian leader in 120-ish AD – within 100 years of Jesus’ death. Papias was born after Jesus died but is said to have been a disciple of the apostle John and so had many memories of a direct eye witness who was close to Jesus. Papias is quoted by Eusebius as saying “Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lords sayings and doings.” And that “he had one purpose only – to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no mis-statement about it.”

So Mark himself had not known Jesus but was writing down Peter’s memories some time in the mid-50s to 60s. At this time, there was no other gospel (as far as we know). It had spread by word of mouth as the first Christians spread from Jerusalem with the first persecution that had started with the martyrdom of Stephen (as told in Acts 7). There were some letters. 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians and Philippians were all in existence before there was a formal gospel.

With the early church and the converts stretching to Rome, Mark’s gospel in its fisherman’s language and easy style, is targeted at Gentiles. He explains Jewish concepts and leads the reader through an exploration of who Jesus is, from the perspective of a Jew but to readers who have no messianic tradition.

It has a strong and fast-paced narrative style. As we go through, notice how many times Mark uses terms like “Immediately…” as the next thing happens – it appears 42 times in Mark (compared to only 5 times in Matthew and once in Luke). He uses several other devices deliberately designed to draw the reader in and lead us to the truth of Jesus. We’ll talk about these as we go through.

So, once a week, we’ll take a chunk at a time and look together at this gospel. If you have any questions about the setting, authorship, historical context and date or anything I’ve talked about here, feel free to post. This is meant to be as open and interactive as you want.

If you want to read a commentary, there are some that read as easily as novels. My absolute favourite is Mark: The Servant King by Paul Barnett. It’s a brilliant read. King’s Cross by Tim Keller is also good. If you want to go crazy with reading, David A deSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament is a chunky text book but one of the most interesting I’ve read. It includes lots of historical, literary and cultural context to all the New Testament books.

My prayer for all of us is that we will get to know Jesus again, and get to know him more. I pray that we will be drawn together and to God. I pray that we will find some online community with respect and gentleness – because the reason we are all here is Jesus. It is he that brings us together and binds us all.