Mark 1: Jesus’ authority

So, I’ve finally read all the New Testament books with fewer than 10 chapters! There are quite a few Old Testament books that are below 10 chapters that I’ve still yet to read (in some cases, ever). However, I thought I would tackle one of the gospels. Mark is the shortest, so I thought I’d start there.


Mark is certainly fast-paced, which probably accounts for why it’s the shortest of the gospels. In the first chapter, you start with John the Baptist, then you have Jesus’s baptism, temptation, some healings and casting out of demons, the proclamation of the good news and the calling of the first disciples (but not in that order). Mark does not linger over each event, and moves quickly from one to the next.

One of the interesting things is how Mark gets straight to Jesus’ identity and his ministry. Luke and John have introduction that come before Jesus is explicitly mentioned. Matthew has a similar introduction, but gives us Jesus’ genealogy and nativity story. Mark begins with the idea that this is about Jesus, then gives us a prophecy to show how Jesus is the fulfilment of scripture. We have John the Baptist proclaim Jesus’ importance, and then the heavenly declaration of Jesus as God’s son. So, in a matter of ten verses we’ve had Isaiah the prophet, John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God declare who Jesus was. The temptation in the desert is dealt with in one sentence, but we are told Jesus was attended to by angels, again, showing the readers who he is.

Therefore, when we get to his public ministry in verses 14, we have a good idea that what is going to happen is going to be amazing. He is the son of God, of course. He declares that God’s kingdom his near. The way he shows this is by showing how God’s kingdom has power over sickness and spirits. God’s kingdom is wherever God’s perfect nature and will rules over earth. Therefore, evil, in the form of sickness and unclean spirits, is driven out as Jesus proclaims the kingdom. Furthermore, this just proves Jesus’ authority (the demons recognise it in verse 24, then the people realise it in verse 27).

Mark 1, then, sets up Jesus’ power in authority in two ways: through the testimony of others (including in scripture and from God, himself) and through is powerful deeds. It encourages us to know that Jesus is the fulfilment of scripture and that he does have this power. Especially as believers know we have been given this same authority and Jesus is with us until the end of the age.

Jude: A against false teaching

It’s somewhat reassuring (at least I think it is…) that there are so many New Testament passages about false teachers. That might seem like an odd statement to make, but hear me out. As I hear about some preachers today, many of them with a lot of fame and a lot of money, who distort the truth, it’s hard not to become disheartened. However, we are warned time and time again that false teachers will come. They will distort the message of God into something evil for their own desires and gain. So, I may get disheartened, but God knew what would happen and God, in his justice, will deal with the issue.

So, what do these false teachers look like? There’s a number of things that they do or say, which tells you they are false teachers, set out to only help themselves:

  • they give permission for immoral behaviour;
  • they reject other authorities;
  • they pollute their own bodies;
  • they think about profit;
  • they are grumblers and fault-finders;
  • they boast about themselves;
  • they flatter others to manipulate;
  • they scoff;
  • they are divisive;
  • they follow their own desires or instinct;
  • and, most importantly, they deny the significance of Jesus Christ.

So, then, this helps us realise what a real teacher is:

  • they don’t permit immorality;
  • they are humble and submit to others;
  • they lead a life of purity;
  • they are self-sacrificing;
  • they are joyful and encouraging;
  • they admit their faults;
  • they praise others with authenticity;
  • they honour and respect others;
  • they seek unity;
  • they seek the kingdom first, pursuing the Lord’s will through the leading of the Holy Spirit;
  • they preach the importance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

Jude also tells us how to treat others, and given the context, perhaps those who are caught up by these false teachings. It is to show mercy, “snatching them from the fire” (v. 22), but also to hate the practices of those who err.

He also gives advice on how to stay in line with the faith. You are to build up your faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. In that way we can stay in God’s love and be patient for the mercy of Jesus’ arrival.

And finally, Jude ends with this doxology, which I am just going to paste here because it’s great:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

verses 24-25

3 John: being hospitable

This letter is addressed to a particular recipient, a man named Gaius. This letter to serves to encourage Gaius in what he is doing and to commend him in his role is supporting the wider church.

Whereas 2 John warns against letting false teachers stay in the believers’ homes, this letter praises Gaius for his hospitality towards genuine teachers. Gaius is contrasted against a man called Diotrephes. Diotrephes seems controlling, overbearing and power-hungry. He is not welcoming to travelling teachers.

I suppose the lesson in this letter, who would you rather be: Gaius or Diotrephes. Gaius is remembered for putting others’ needs before his, for opening his home up and accepting fellow believers. He often, it seems, opens his home to those who he has never met before. I’m sure that wasn’t an easy decision, as it can open yourself to being vulnerable. (I imagine it could have been even riskier in those times.) Diotrephes, as verse nine tells us, “loves to be first”. Therefore, he seems to spread rumours about other authority figures and refuse to welcome them.

Of course, we answer, I want to be Gaius! But do our lives actually reflect that? Are we sometimes eager to cling onto our power or reputation? Are we intimidated of those that might be seen as better than us? Do we belittle others in order to bolster our ego and reputation? Or, are we open handed and hospitable? Do we welcome travellers and strangers into our homes? Do we put the needs, reputations and honour of others before ourselves? I wonder what the church would look like if everybody followed this better example.

2 John: love and truth

2 John is a single chapter and it is pretty short. Essentially it is the ancient equivalent of snopes.com or factcheck.com. It is warning the members of a church (who the author – probably the disciple John – calls the lady chosen by God and her children) about false teachers that are travelling around spreading a false gospel.

It essentially says that if the teacher does not teach about Jesus Christ coming in the flesh then they are wrong. He also reminds the church to continue in love.

This short letter is actually quite a helpful lesson in the age of fake news. What are the main criteria of what we consume, post and share? Well, perhaps that it promotes love and testifies of Jesus Christ? I wonder what social media would look like if we followed those rules.

1 John 5: the Holy Spirit’s testimony

This chapter repeats a lot of the same ideas of the whole book but also introduces some new ones. A few of these I do not fully understand and might have some symbolic significance I’m not that familiar with.

The first statement is that we need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah: the one that was sent to save us and God’s people. This means that we know God. Another aspect of loving God is our obedience to God. I love what verse 2 and 4 tells us about God’s commands. They tell us that they are not burdensome but help us to overcome the world. Through following the Lord’s commands we get to be free as we are released from the burdens of this life in the world. If you are wondering why we need to overcome the world the chapter answers this for us. Verse 19, a little bit further down warns us the whole world is under the rule of the evil one. But through the victory of Jesus, we can have victory too.

This chapter also tells us about how we come to believe. It is never through hearing a person explain the gospel that we come to believe. It is in fact through the testimony of the Holy Spirit. (There’s also the testimony of water and blood, which confuses me. I assume the blood is the death on the cross, as remembered in communion. The water part stumps me and could me baptism or refer to a particular moment after Jesus died. That’s one for research.) The Holy Spirit, being one person in the triune God prepares our hearts and ears to hear and receive the truth. Without the Holy Spirit’s testimony no one can believe. Often people think they are under pressure to convert non-believers, but in reality there is nothing of the sort. Instead, we just have to be obedient to God’s life giving commands.

Once we have accepted the Holy Spirit’s testimony about Jesus, we are one with Christ. This means that we are given eternal life (verses 11-13). We are also able to pray for things, in accordance with God’s will, and know that God hears our prayers. We are also protected by God who prevents us from sinning. There is also the role of the body of the church in helping lead us to repentance when we sin. But once again, only God can transform the heart of humans.

Ask a Missionary: Host Culture

I’ve got a whole bit of a series going on about missionary life. A while back, I wrote a post about what questions you could ask a missionary if you were stuck for ideas.I began to answer them. So far I have answered the basic questions and then questions about getting out and about. So this is the third in the series (hopefully there will be more). This one focuses on my relationship with what is sometimes known as the “host culture.” That’s the culture that they are surrounded by the most. This might not be the majority culture within the country as often missionaries work with ethnic minorities and tribal groups. Also, some missionaries will work with multiple cultures.

What is the predominant host culture? 

Cambodia is very homogenous, so is predominantly Khmer. There are other minority groups within Cambodia that missionaries live among or work with. However, I do work and live with Khmer people.

Tell me something about what you’ve learnt about your host culture. 

I’ve learnt quite a bit in the three years that I’m here, but I know I’m just scraping the surface. I think one major consideration is the difference between urban and rural culture and the intergenerational differences in culture are quite significant.

What do you like most about your host culture? 

Their hospitality and how welcome they are, their cheerfulness and light-hearted nature, their care and compassion. In 2016, I wrote a whole list here and not a lot of it has changed.

What has surprised you most about your host culture? 

How far they would go to help you and how, if you are “in” their circle, they will go out of their way to make sure you are looked after. (When I’m talking about circles, I do not mean cliques. In Cambodia, there is a definite sense that you have a group of established relationships. This can be landlord-tenant; colleague; friend; relation. When you fall in that circle you fall into a set of reciprocal responsibilities of care and respect. Those bonds are pretty binding.)

What advice would you give to those visiting to your country about your host culture? 

Expect relationships to take time and start off small, gradually allowing that relationship to form. Cambodians are generally quite shy and reticent to make friendships but once you are welcomed in, you’re set.

How is your own culture and the host culture similar? 

I think how we form relationships. Someone asked how I had managed to create quite close bonds with Cambodian people. I think he went in trying to be friendly and chatty straight away. I started off with a smile the first few times, then a conversation and then worked from there. In the UK, it can often take years to form strong relationships.

What differences have you found it easy to adjust to? 

The food, the friendliness, the karaoke parties. I think just sitting and watching is also perfectly acceptable so there isn’t too much pressure in social situations to be the life of the party.

How integrated do you feel with your host culture? 

I feel integrated with my Khmer family (the one I live with). However, a part of this is due to their acceptance and ability to be flexible with foreigners. I think in situations where I’m a stranger, I find myself feeling more alien. Of course, that sounds obvious but when I’m a stranger in Cambodia I tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

What barriers are there for you feeling a part of your host culture? 

There’s still a bit of a language barrier. I’m also an introvert so I can often find situations overwhelming and exhausting.

Have you experienced culture shock yet? What do you think contributed to it? 

I have been very lucky. I have not had major culture shock. I have had moments of cultural conflicts (not fights but clashes in cultural values and expectations) and they will be on-going for many years. These tend to crop up every now, especially when you are tired, rather than being constant issues. However, I have not felt the need to flee the country or have not had any resentment or long-lasting frustration with Khmer people. One reason is that I often ended up in places where the Khmer people already understood how foreigners might approach things so they were considerate and flexible. Another could be that I had a team that were careful to warn me about potential issues. It could be that, at first, I a short time in Phnom Penh then moved to Siem Reap. Perhaps this transition interrupted the usual process of culture shock slightly. Lastly, I’ve just been blessed by getting to know some amazing Khmer people.

What conflicts are there between your cultural background and your host culture? 

I’ve written about some of them here. I also wrote about how I needed to adjust to some of the cultural conflicts created by moving in with a Cambodian family.

Where might your perspective have to change in order to understand your host culture better?

My attitudes have already been changing and it means that I often inhabit a bizarre grey area or have a Cambodian way of doing things and a British way of doing things. One clear example (that fortunately does not come up that much), would be gift-giving and relationship building. “Gift-giving and relationship building” is what I call the social phenomenon you might call bribes. Now, I would probably not hand over a gift at the point of need, especially if it was a judicial matter and if there had not been a prior relationship formed. However, if I was in a role or situation where diplomacy was needed or where I often had to use the services of those in official positions, I would definitely try to establish a good relationship with them just to make the process better for everyone. I am naturally deferential and respectful of authority, so it is just a more tangible expression of that. It is not a bad thing to recognise kindness or the help of those who did not need to help you, is it?

Where are there Biblical conflicts with your host culture? 

The drinking at parties can be very enthusiastic. There is idolatry of status and the status symbols. (Of course, there are some other major conflicts with Biblical principles but this is not the whole of the society, only the criminal elements. This is true of all societies.)

What does your host culture do that you feel is in line with Biblical values? 

I think their hospitality, desire to show care and community orientation is more in-line with Bible practices.

Which language / languages are you having to learn? 

Khmer. I may learn another language after I’ve done this, but just as a hobby (perhaps Vietnamese or a Chinese language).

How is language learning going? 

It’s going well, I think. I can read and write quite well. I can type in Khmer, which seems to amaze everyone. It’s just that you have to remember which Khmer letters correspond to which English keys. However, there is a bit of logic to it, so that makes it easier. It’s only when you get to the more obscure letters that it gets annoying and you just end up bashing your keyboard in various combinations. There are about 100 characters (including punctuation markers, etc.) that you need to find so that means they are often found in various wacky combinations of keys.

What have been the biggest successes in your language learning journey? 

I had to write and give two long talks on two different subjects. The first was about the social problems in Cambodia. I spoke about how poverty was the reason, or at least factor, for the other social problems within Cambodia, including trafficking, drug and alcohol dependency, domestic abuse, prostitution, poor health, etc. Although a deep and intense topic, it was interesting to talk about. I also had to give a talk in Khmer about the Bible. I chose Joshua 1. I was really proud I was able to do that.

I thought I was doing well! Then I asked for corrections…

What challenges have you faced in language learning? 

The trilled r sound. In fact, getting my mouth to do what it’s meant to be doing.

How do you feel about language learning? 

I generally enjoy it. I love it when I learnt a word or piece of grammar and I get to use it in a real life context or hear it and understand what someone is saying. It might seem a bit sad but it I really enjoy it. There are of course frustrations, when you can’t make yourself understood or when you simply can’t get a word right.

1 John 4: God is love so we should love

This chapter seems a bit repetitive. However, these are truths that we need to know completely and fully. We need to know that God is love, and to be in God is to love one another.

The first part of the chapter carries on from 1 John 3. It talks about how denying Christ is the sign of a false prophet. Jesus, as one person of the triune God, came as fully God and fully man to the earth to save us and reconcile us with God. If someone denies the wonders of these truths, they do not speak the truth.

Then verses 7-21 reiterate some simple ideas. It tells us God is love twice; that God loves us three times, and discusses loving our brothers and sisters about four times. Verses 9-11 sum it up like this:

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

These truths are amazing and are worth repeating. God, who is love, loved us by giving us life through the atoning sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. As we dwell in the truth of such love, we are to be filled with this love. The evidence of God’s love in our life is, funnily enough, the amount of love in our life. As the love that God showed was immeasurably generous, so should our love for others.

I’m often amazed at the testimony of new believers, especially in Cambodia. It is often the love they experienced from believers that testified to the truth of God’s love for them. Therefore, it is so important that we testify of Lord Jesus in our words and also in how we show love for others.

Today, I was really challenged because someone (who I think has a lot of wisdom) said that the idea of “friendship evangelism” was wrong. I agree. Or just that it’s tautological. If you love your friends and if you also believe that the best thing for someone’s eternal soul was for them to know Jesus, then you’d naturally tell them about Jesus. If you don’t, then either you don’t love your friend or you don’t believe in the gospel. That was a bitter pill to swallow and I know I have a lot of repentance to do, either for being an unloving friend or being an unfaithful disciple.

1 John 3: child of God

Sometimes when I read a passage, I just want to copy and paste everything here. The words are so encouraging, striking or beautiful. The first two verses are just great. They remind us of our status as children of God, because of his great love. Then it speaks to what we will become when Jesus returns; we will become like him.

John then goes on to remind us that we are not to continue sinning because we are in Christ. Sin is of the devil, for he is the original sinner. (Not Adam and Eve!) But we are born of God, being his children, so we no longer have sin in us. Again, this holds in tension the now and not-yet aspect of the Gospel. However, transformative change is possible and God does work in our hearts.

We are also to love our brothers and sisters. This is not because of how we are treated or because those around it deserve it. In fact, we should expect to be hated. We love despite this and because of God’s great love.

Loving others is a command from Christ and is in obedience to God. Again, it brings together the two-fold aspect of the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God and love your neighbour. You cannot do one without the other.

What is prayer?

I’m very blessed with the family I live with. I have a very nice relationship with the two twin boys. One of my favourite things is when they come home with a story to tell me. They just excitedly spill out what happened in the day. Often it’s hard to keep up with the mix of Khmer and broken English. Other days, we will have cups of teas together and sit at the table. We will just chat and again they will tell me their little stories. Sometimes it is about how they fell over playing and the pain of that or that they saw a cool car. I feel so blessed in these times just to hear about their lives and their thoughts and feelings. Yes, it’s sometimes not clear and they can’t articulate themselves. But I feel like I get to know them more through these moments.

In the garden of Eden, Adam walked with God. Moses would speak to God as if a friend.

So I wonder if this is what prayer is?

1 John 2: being without sin

This chapter picks up where the previous one picks up: in the tension of being a sinful but also redeemed. Here it reminds us that we should not sin but that we also have Jesus to rely on. It reminds me a bit of when Peter writes about how God provided everything but invites us to have a role. We often try too hard to rely on our own strength to reach purity, but the fact is we can only have it because God redeemed us through his son Jesus Christ. Our human efforts do nothing; it’s only through the cross and the good work Jesus is doing in us that we can achieve anything.

Verses 3 to 6 expand on us further. We are to keep Jesus’ commands out of love for him. Therefore, it’s so important to daily focus on him and what he did for us to motivate us. In times of trouble or temptation we look not to ourselves or our own strength but we look to the cross. Then we can love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The next part of John looks at another way the love for our Lord is express: our love for others. It’s not coincidence that Jesus responded to the question about the greatest commandment with a twofold answer. We are to love our God, which is expressed here in how we love others. These verses also remind us of how Jesus said in Matthew 5. You can’t offer worship if you know a brother has something against you. Jesus came to redeem us with God and each other. Therefore, if there are relational issues within the church, we aren’t living in the fullness of Christ’s redemption.

Verses 12-14 are interesting, exciting and encouraging. The fact that we are told that we have overcome the evil one is an interesting concept in the fight against sin. As we battle against evil desires, we must remember: the victory is won! That’s another good reason to look toward the cross.

The last sections talk about not loving the world because it is temporary and to love what God has given you. We are also warned not to deny Christ. We are to remain in him and remain confident in his promises. In that way we can be pure when he comes again.