Mark 6: 1–6: What are you missing?

If you were to talk to people from different stages of my life, you’d likely get a very different interpretation of my character. These stages don’t have to be particularly far apart. Take two of my friends who I’ll refer to by their initials, K and S. K was a friend during secondary school and college. She knew me at the awkward teenager stage. S was a friend as university. She knew me at the awkward university student stage. (All my life stages are awkward, just at different points and in different ways.) If you asked K and S whether I was organised, the answer would be completely different. K would say not at all: I constantly forget things; I don’t keep deadlines well; I’m a scatter-brain. S would say that I was extremely organised: everything was submitted well in advance; I could handle a wide-range organisational challenges simultaneously; I managed my time well. A part of this is the massive effort I made in my first semester to get systems in place (I had a diary where I wrote everything. The receipts of my book loans were stapled inside. I had a cover-page template for all my reading notes where I kept extensive bibliographical notes so I knew the references to quotation with ease…)

Despite this apparent transformation, I think K would find it hard to believe that I’m considered to be pretty well organised by most people I’ve encountered in my adult life. (I’m still working on the tidy part…) So, when I read the first part of Mark 6, I sort of understand the situation Jesus finds himself in. I also understand the perspectives of those around him. It must be hard for those that knew Jesus as a child and as a carpenter to believe he was indeed the Son of God. In fact, I believe (and may be wrong) that it’s indicated somewhere that his brothers were very hard to convince and only believed after Jesus’ death.

My favourite verse, perhaps, of this part is verse 5: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The fact that healing a few sick people is seen as unremarkable. Imagine if your complaint was “I only managed to do one miracle today. Yesterday, I could do fifty-six.” (I’m not going to get into the debate as to whether miracles still happen or not. But they do but might not necessarily meet our definition of a miracle—whoops, I got into it.) What is incredible here is that Jesus performing many miracles was the expectation. It just goes to show how incredible he actually was. Also, it makes me think about how Jesus is responsive to the wishes and attitudes of those around him. He doesn’t thrust miracles on people. He graciously allows them to accept them.

The questions it raises for me is what have I been unwilling to accept in my life? How have I stymied Jesus’s untold, unfathomable blessings through a hardness of heart? I am pretty sure that it has happened. Jesus is still good and patient and I am still exceptionally blessed. But, maybe there is more that I could be receiving if only I opened my hands and heart to accept it. I wonder if that’s the same for any of you?

Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3 again holds many blessings. The first section, which the NIV versions titles “God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles”, is again a great encouragement. The main reason of this: I am a beneficiary of this plan. I am a Gentile. (I do in fact have some Jewish ancestry, but not enough to count.) Without this plan and without it being revealed to Paul, I would not have known the grace of Jesus. It’s wild to think that my parents, who told me the gospel, were told by someone else, who in turn, heard the gospel. Someone told them, and someone told them, and someone told them. If you go far back enough, it would have been the first missionaries around Europe that told them the gospel, and then eventually to the first Christians and perhaps even Paul. Isn’t it mad that nearly a thousand years ago Paul could have initiated the chain of people that would eventually reach me?

It’s perhaps why I think missionary work is so important, because we all can all thank a missionary at some point for spreading the gospel. I just wonder how my contribution in this chain will continue.

When I think of that, it becomes so much more personal when I read the following verses:

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3: 7-8a

So tonight I am grateful for all the people who were servants of this gospel before me.

Then Paul prays a prayer and asks for various things for the recipients of the letter:

  • strengthened with power through the Spirit
  • Christ may dwell in their hearts
  • to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ
  • to know this love that surpasses all knowledge
  • to be filled with the fullness of God.

What amazing things to pray for! I definitely pray for them for myself!

Then this chapter ends with some very famous verses. These verses are such an encouragement, reminding us of the sheer, incomprehensible goodness of God and that his power is in us. He is definitely deserving of the glory.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.

Amen, indeed.

Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1 is packed with so much. It’s pretty full on and it really emphasises the blessing it is to know Christ. It tells us that our identity is in Jesus, and this was the plan before we even came to believe.

God has blessed us with everything we need. This is some of the things that Ephesians 1 tells us we have received from God:

  • adoption into sonship
  • glorious grace
  • redemption
  • forgiveness of sins
  • the knowledge of the mystery of his will
  • the message of his truth
  • the gospel of salvation
  • an inheritance
  • great power

So verse 3 is not wrong when it says God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing” (emphasis mine). God has truly given us so much through His Son Jesus Christ.

It also tells us of our identity in Him, having been chosen even as creation was happening. I really like the way The Message puts it:

Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planing this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

I think it’s amazing to think that He took pleasure in planning our adoption and redemption. Of course, the pain and suffering Jesus experienced as a result was terrible and unfathomable. But to think that the love the Father had for us was so great that He took pleasure in redeeming us and knowing that we would be His. What a wonderful thought.

This chapter also talks about our identity as members of the church. Despite the fact that it often seems that the church is sidelined and ignored, it isn’t. Verse 22 and 23 tell us that Jesus is the head over everything, as as the church is his body, that is higher than anything else on earth to. The Message version again puts it nicely:

The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body. in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

This reminds us that as citizens of God’s kingdom and members of Christ’s body we have way more authority and power than we often remember. It also reminds us that we have a very high calling and should take this role seriously indeed.

So I will end with an adapted version of verses 18-19, which is a prayer.

I pray that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened in order that I may know the hope to which he has called me, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Amen.

The Bible in One Year: Day 2

I’ve made it to day 2! That’s something to be thankful for.

Psalm 2 continues the idea of what happens to those who oppose God and his rule and those who seek him. Seeking God always leads to blessings.

The Matthew passage really struct me. It just emphasised Jesus’ lowly beginnings. When the Magi asked about where the baby king was, no one knew. We can judge by Herod’s order to execute all babies under two, that Jesus had already been a baby for a substantial time. Yet Herod, the religious leaders and teachers had not yet realised he was there. Jesus was completely anonymous and unknown. He was born in a shed full of animals. He was the adopted child of his father; reliant on a man who was not his biological father. He was then to become a refugee and become stateless. He was born a nobody. But a nobody that angels worshiped and the Magi traveled miles and months to see.

(A side note: Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth – maybe to be with Joseph’s family. Also, what happened to the shepherds in the intervening time?)

There’s a stark contrast between Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Herod. Both Mary and Joseph were pretty insignificant from a worldly point of view: both were obedient, humble, righteous and in many ways extremely courageous. Herod was powerful and influential; he’s the one that has multiple archeological ruins dotted around Israel and Palestine associated with him. Yet he was fearful and petty and cruel. He actively sought to oppose the prophecies in the Old Testament. He thought he could beat those odds.

Genesis 2 tells us that we often believe lies about God before we act against God. Sin comes as a result of a misunderstanding of God’s character. What misunderstandings do I have? What lies do I believe about God?

Bible in One Year: Day 1

So, it’s nearly the end of the year. Everyone is thinking wha their pursuits for 2019 are going to be. Once again, I’m going to try and tackle the Bible in One Year (I got about 2 months in last time I tried a few years back. I’ve tried a lot. I know Genesis pretty well by now).

I’ve cheated a little and given myself a head start. So, I’m already on about day 5. I’m hoping to give myself a buffer for when things go wrong.

I’ve got the YouVersion Bible app, which is great for a number of reasons. However, I’m quite excited about the Bible In One Year reading plan they have. Each day its got a devotional, written by Nicky Gumbel (with some additions by his wife Pippa. They’ve recorded it so you can just sit back and listen to it. The YouVersion have also got hold of David Suchet’s recording of the NIV. So you can listen to the Bible readings (I tend to read along with it). The whole multi-sensory experience seems to be a lot easier.

Day 1

Although Christians today are really wary of promoting a prosperity Gospel (and rightly so), the Bible is abundantly clear that righteousness and a closeness with God brings blessings and prosperity (but probably not of the material kind). Psalm 1:3 tells us this is this case.

We live in a world of self-improvement and 5-minute hacks and short cuts. It seems to me that pursuing a relationship with God is way easier and more beneficial than most of the “hacks” or lifestyle advice we get given. God promises countless blessings.

Again, I don’t want it to seem like God only gives us things if we work for it. If we do our chores of reading the Bible, praying and being good people, then God will give us gifts. God isn’t an omnipotent Santa. He’s much better than that. The Bible, the living Word of God, is the blessing; praying to a good and loving Father is the blessing; living a life worthy of the Gospel is the blessing. God has already offered these things. We just have to reach out to receive them. I often remember the picture of God and Adam: God’s hand outstretched and Adam limply responding. That’s often how we receive God’s blessings.

In Genesis 1, God created creation: the stars, the mountains, the oceans, the plants, the animals. He said that this was “good”. The most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen; a flock of starlings swooping and swirling through the sky in mesmerising formations; that mighty thunderstorm where the sky is dazzling bright then the earth is ringing with an echoing boom. These things are “good”.

Then God made people. He saw humankind and said that this was “very good”. So, next time you are in awe of nature, think for a moment that this is “good” but God thinks you’re more impressive, beautiful and awe-inspiring than that. I pray that 2019 is a year when we can see ourselves and those around us as God does: very good.