Mark 9:1-29 – Transfigured and transformed

I don’t know about you, but the transfiguration passage in Mark (and it’s equivalent elsewhere) is probably the part of the gospels I find the hardest to wrap my head around. It seems relatively unbelievable. It’s one of the passages that I read with a hardened heart (much like the disciples hardened their heart after Jesus calms the storm previously). It all seems a bit too nebulous and, dare I say it, weird. I don’t know how to respond to this passage.

Peter and the other disciples, too, don’t know what to do. They are fearful by what they see. I suppose I am also fearful of this scene. It challenges my predefined ideas of what is acceptable and also pushes against my logical and empirical sensibilities. (Thanks, Enlightenment scholars for that heritage.) So, I often try to overlook this passage. (“Whoops, that’s obviously there by accident. Let’s move on.”)

As Peter babbles on — even in front of a transfigured Jesus and two dead prophets, he finds it hard to shut his mouth — God interrupts him. God says to the disciples, “This is my Son, whom I love! Listen to him!”

Listen to him. Now that’s something I often fail to do. I get caught up in busybody work. Maybe that’s my version on babbling on. Am I scared to really listen, to look upon Jesus and see him for what he is? Will I cry, “Away from me, for I am a sinner?” Will I find having everything I believe confronted to uncomfortable? So, I frantically fill the silence with “helpful work” and, I tell myself, “God’s work”. But really, God tells us what he wants us to do in the light of a resurrected Jesus. God wants us to listen to the Son he loves.

After Jesus returns from the transfiguration, the disciples that were left behind were in a bit of a bind. They were in a crowd and there was a quarrel. The argument centres around a demon possessed boy.

Jesus is able to heal the boy where the disciples could not. Although this transformation of circumstances is miraculous, I find the transformation in the heart of a desperate father more so. The father, just before Jesus heals his son, says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

How many times have I cried that? I do believe. I want to believe. I want to believe the transfiguration. I want to believe that Jesus indwells in me. I want to believe I can be transformed and transfigured. Help me overcome my unbelief!

Jesus’s belief doesn’t come from nowhere though. Jesus’s power comes from prayer. Not some incantation, but daily, faithful prayer and communion with the Father. That is what overcomes unbelief.

Lord God

Transform me. Change my heart. I want to believe but my faith is as small as a mustard seed. Help me overcome my unbelief. Let me come with childlike wonder at your Word. Help me to listen to your Son, whom you love.

In Jesus’s holy name, Amen.

Mark 8:1-21 – Sourdough and signs

This passage can be obscure in some places, and we perhaps feel a bit like the disciples when reading it. However, there is one thing that is clear in the passage: it is easy to fail to recognise Jesus for who he actually is.

Throughout Mark, Jesus has performed miracles: healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, calmed storms. Here is no exception: he feeds a crowd of at least 4,000. This crowd has been with Jesus for three days. (I often feel like a 90 minute church service drags. Shows how pathetic my thirst for the word is.) Naturally, they are hungry to the point of potentially fainting on the journey back. Now, Jesus hadn’t forced them. They were aware of the risks. When have I ever thought, I feel dizzy and starving, but one more church service? These people obviously did.

So, Jesus feeds them and again multiples bread to a miraculous amount. Another miracle. Then almost immediately, the Pharisees ask for a sign. You can’t help but wonder at their thinking. (One commentary suggests they asked for a particular, apocalyptic sign. But still, Jesus is obviously powerful and has authority, yet they still want to test him.) Jesus does not give them what they are looking for.

Then the disciples get in a boat and they’ve forgotten to bring bread. The disciples squabble and are fixated on this. Jesus tells them something, which although related, is not about the bread. Jesus warns them not to let the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod taint them. This is where a bit of historical context is very helpful.

When we think of making bread and yeast, we often think of the instant yeast packets you get from the baking aisle in supermarkets. That’s not how you made bread in ancient times. It was more like a sourdough. You would keep back a part of the dough, and use it the next day. This process happened pretty much everyday. Take your portion of old day, work it into the new dough, then keep a portion back, and repeat. Therefore, if your dough went bad, it would contaminate all your subsequent doughs. Therefore, Jesus is saying the Pharisees and Herod are a bad batch that have a pernicious potential to contaminate many others, and for a while.

When the disciples hear this, they are still thinking about the lack of bread. In verse 4, they were concerned about the lack of bread too. Previously, they were concerned about the lack of money or food or other resources. The disciples are very concerned about the lack of provision. They have Jesus with them and they still worry about whether they will have enough. Jesus has proven his ability to provide again and again and they still fail to trust that their needs will be met.

They are such bad disciples, aren’t they? We would never doubt or focus on world worries, would we? We are far above that. It’s easy to judge the disciples, especially as they literally have Jesus in front of them. But doesn’t Jesus promise that he will be with us, just like he was with the disciples? Doesn’t he promise to fulfil our needs? Doesn’t scripture reassure us again and again that God cares and provides?

What bad yeast have we been kneading into our lives again and again? What evil, what doubts, what blind spots do we keep back then work into our thinking everyday? What is the source of our bad yeast? We probably can’t blame the Pharisees for this one. Is it consumer culture? Individualist cultures that push self-fulfilment and independence to an unhealthy degree? Old fears? What is your unhealthy yeast?

Mark 6:30-56 – Powerful Compassion

There are two evident themes in this part of Mark 6 is Jesus’ power but also his compassion. Jesus’s power reveals itself in a number of ways: his power to provide, his power to control nature, his power to heal. However, his power is always marked by compassion: compassion towards the crowds, compassion towards the disciples, compassion towards the sick. The mix of holy, supernatural power and holy, righteous love here is amazing.

This section comes after the news that Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist has just been killed. This was probably extremely distressing news for Jesus. In the midst of this, huge crowds flocked around him, denying him the chance to rest as Jesus had intended. If I was in that situation, I would be very impatient, grumpy and resentful. Jesus obviously wanted some peace and quiet, but he couldn’t get it. But when he saw the crowd, verse 34 tells us, ‘he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ Despite his grief, weariness and own desires being unmet, Jesus still responded with compassion.

In his compassion, he taught them. He met their need for spiritual edification and answers. After this he also provided for their physical needs through the miracle of feeding a huge crowd. Jesus has the power to meet all our needs.

In the next section, Jesus walks on turbulent water, against a strong wind. This is a powerful miracle. He walked into the middle of sea and revealed himself to the disciples. Furthermore, when they were fearful, Jesus had compassion, joined them and reassured them. Jesus can meet us wherever, having the power to overcome every obstacle (including a massive and petulant body of water). In his compassion, he is also able to calm our fears as we encounter the Son of God who was there at the beginning of creation.

Finally, Jesus heals the sick. He has the power to restore the broken in body and spirit. He is so powerful that even the hem of his cloak can restore health. Those that come to him find restoration.

Power and compassion, woven together.

Now, when I read the gospels, I sometimes imagine how I would have reacted if I were there. Or ask, what were the disciples thinking at the time? Surely, they were in joyful, blissful awe. How could you react in any other way than sheer amazement? Well, verse 51 tells us they were indeed amazed. But verse 52 then adds an interesting, startling but also so human twist to it. Mark tells us they do not understand and they harden their hearts to it. It is easy to be confounded at this and ask how could the disciples, witnessing Jesus’ power, harden their hearts. But I know that I am guilty of the same very thing. My cold logic, or my over-familiarity with the stories, means that I am numb to the true power and compassion revealed in this. How often do I not see Jesus for who he is: the compassionate, powerful, Son of God?

Lord God,

I thank you for your son Jesus Christ. He is powerful and compassionate. He has power to provide, to overcome nature, to heal. He is loving and cares for his sheep.

Lord God, I am often like a sheep without a shepherd. I wander, lost and uncertain. May I know Jesus’s guidance and compassion. Lord God, meet with me and calm my fears. May I know your son’s presence in my life. Lord God, there are so many times my heart is hardened to your words and your power. Open my heart so that I may have faith and receive your son.

Lord God, hear my prayer.

Amen

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

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.

A time of reflection

No one would be surprised if I was to say that 2020 has been hard. Of course, it has been — we’ve all been in the midst of a global pandemic. And as I have seen the devastating impact this virus has had around the world — on societies, economies, the lives of individuals as they see their loved ones’ or their own health diminish — it’s been tempting to dismiss my problems as insignificant. I’ve been healthy, protected in Cambodia and by my youth from the worst and, for the most part, financially stable enough not to fear what would happen next.

But, as the end of 2020 comes towards us, and as I have more opportunity to reflect, I have realised various things. I have lived 2020 (and even, to some extent, the end of 2019) in survival mode. Yes, there has been so much joy and things to be grateful for. But, I have felt, for the most part, as if I have been lurching from one crisis or difficulty to the next. I also need to be able to be okay with living with feelings of grief, disappointment and frustration. Sometimes too quickly, I will brush those feelings off, as if I don’t deserve to be experiencing them, because, of course, someone has it far worst than me.

In my new MA course, we are being encouraged to reflect. I thought I would write a post about my experiences of 2020, as a way to perhaps get them out my head and maybe to process them a bit better. This may be a bit of a long one, so perhaps grab a cup of tea, coffee or comforting drink and take a seat.


I started 2020 already exhausted. In 2019, I had taken on a new subject: iGCSE drama. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I also took on responsibilities with the school play and continued with my language studies in the evenings. Furthermore, that semester, the Ministry of Education in Cambodia demanded that the school submit a ridiculous amount of paperwork, including every scheme of work within the school. Fortunately, the English department only needed to make a few adjustments, but I spent quite a bit of time helping the Khmer teacher with his. (He had to produce schemes from preschool to grade 10 all by himself.) I also decided that I should move house. So, I found a new place and in the last few weeks of December, I packed up all my belonging and found a new fridge, stove, washing machine and bed. Just writing all that out was exhausting enough, so I’m not surprised I was a little tired.

Removing shrines and Chinese good luck charms from the house
Continue reading “A time of reflection”

2 Peter 1: an invitation to participate

The introduction of 2 Peter seems to wrestle with ideas that can cause confusion within the church. In fact, it probably has been seen in a number of the large theological debates since the death of Jesus. It is this: how much of our salvation and sanctification depends on us and how much depends on God. I’m not going to make an effort to delve into these deep topics and the history of such debates, but here is my rather simple and probably flawed interpretation of the matter.

We are told first that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. This puts the power into God’s hands: he provides. It goes on to say that he has called us, again making the impetus God’s. Furthermore, he has given us promises for us to cling onto and to receive. Then it goes on to say that this is so we can “participate in the divine nature” of God. First, before I analyse it to death, let me just say what a beautiful statement that is. Through our salvation, we get to live in the holiness of God. That sounds crazy and wonderful and strange. But, going back to my first point, “participate” tells us that we get a role to play.

God does all the ground-work and all the hard stuff. He sent his son to die so that we may live. He saves us. He has the absolute power and authority in this. But, he still invites us to join in with him. He invites us to use our mind, hearts, strength and soul in what he is doing. I get the picture of a father doing a job and letting his young son or daughter “help”. Their child imitates their father but doesn’t really do anything particularly constructive in the effort. The father could have easily done the task on his own. Instead, it’s about the participation and the communion between father and child. That is what our Heavenly Father daily invites us into: a participation and a communion with him as he builds his kingdom. It really does not depend on me. I’m just to join in and enjoy the relationship I have with God.

We are also invited to participate in our own spiritual growth and development. We are to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual-affection and love to our faith. This, again, seems to be something for us to do as well. A metaphor perhaps for this could be a patient following the exercises to allow them to recover effectively after an operation. The surgeon does the hard work to fix the problem and oversees the recovery afterwards; the patient makes sure that they live in a way that enables them to take the best advantage of the operation and new lease of life they have been given.

So, how do we participate? Well, it seems that we do it through constantly reminding ourselves of the grace we have received and the cross. We look to Jesus. This inspires us to participate and to make the most of the freedom and salvation we have received.

1 Peter 5: A lesson in humility

1 Peter reminds us of the need for humility. He directs this both to the leaders and to the flock. The leaders are to be humble shepherds, gently guiding them. They are not to lord it over them, and they are to serve eagerly, because God has entrusted this job to them. This is a really beautiful picture of leadership: one where the leaders are compassionate, joyful, wise and understanding.

The humility, however, is not just for the leaders. The younger people in the church are to submit to their elders. The motivation for this humility is interesting: because it is what God wants and God delights in the humble.

Often, we equate humility with modesty: a playing down of our achievements. But there is more to it than that, I think. There is an inherent knowledge that God is King and that we are sinful and fallen. Where Paul writes that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of who I am the worst” in 1 Timothy 1:15, that is an expression of humility. When we recognise our dire need to God, we will be eager to find leaders to guide us; we will refrain from think ourselves better than those we lead.

Therefore, when Peter tells us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, it is this. It is us recognising that God is in control, he is mighty, his purposes prevail; whereas we are weak, poor and not in control of our surroundings. But, in this comes blessing. God will lift us up. Also, when we recognise that our situations are beyond us, it becomes easy to cast our anxieties on God. He cares and he is capable to help us. I know that the act of letting God take control of my life and my problems requires a great act of will-power. I arrogantly assume I can handle it but it is obvious I can’t.

The next few verses perhaps then give us cause for anxiety: the devil is on the prowl. I don’t know, but my list of worries often excludes this one (it’s usually where I put my passport or about some plan). Are we, then, called to think about this more often. We are meant to be in a state of readiness, prepared to go into battle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often feel that way.

Another interesting thought, is that we are to stand firm in the faith but with humility and grace. We are to have absolute confidence in the faith we have. But this is not born out of our intellectual capabilities or knowing the right answers. In fact it’s the opposite. We know we can’t fathom the acts and purposes of God. They are far beyond our reason. But because of that, we can be confident in something greater than ourselves.

We are, therefore, called to fight knowing that we have the victor on our side.

Hear, Believe, Go

Sometimes, it’s easy to wonder why I do what I do? Why become a missionary? There are lots of theological reasons and positions on the matter (Is it for some? Is it for everyone? Is it for no one?) and mine is probably not particularly refined. This post is also a tiny part of my own reason for going on mission, however, it is one If you do want a theological discussion on what is mission, this post isn’t it.

If you asked me ten years ago whether I would become a missionary, the answer would have been no. If you said it would be to Asia, I probably would have been even more firmly adamant. However, here I am.

One Bible passage that is often used is this one.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Romans 10:14-15

There are billions of people that have not even heard the about Jesus, so have no chance to believe. They will never hear that Jesus can save them and therefore will not be able to call on him for rescue. We know that they have no access to the gospel; we know their situation. We know the importance of our message.

I don’t know what the day of judgment will look like. But imagine if we had to listen to the accounts of the people that had never heard the gospel. What would they say? “They heard but did not speak. They believed but did not proclaim. They knew but they did not come.”

1 Peter 1

Peter is writing to believers throughout Asia Minor and the Middle East. In the first few verses, he recognises those as God’s elect, God’s chosen, those sanctified by the Holy Spirit and those who are obedient to Christ.

Peter praises God for what he has given us: hope in difficulties, an imperishable inheritance, mercy, new birth. Although the believers may have sufferings, they are filled with an abundance of joy and faith, rejoicing in God. I wonder if the first thing that people say when they think about Christians is, “they have an abundance of joy”? I don’t think it is. But it’s such a crucial part to our faith. We are called to be joyful people, always thinking of the many mercies we have received from God and of our salvation through Christ. How do we do that? Well, Philippians 4:8 gives us a clue.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

I wonder how often we are distracted or frustrated needlessly. I know I am. Even minor issues or difficulties can cause me to lose sight of God’s goodness and the hope I have in him.

Peter then goes on to tell us what we are to do in response to God’s grace and mercy: be alert, hopeful, obedient and holy. We are to shun the desires that we had previously and seek holiness. This holiness should pervade all we do, and it a holiness that reflects God’s holiness.