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

Mark 6:6-11 – Relying on God.

I’ve recently returned to Cambodia. It was definitely a bit of a battle. Furthermore, I have quite a bit of luggage. I’ve brought loads of t-shirts, shirts, trousers, socks, two pairs of shoes, some jumpers and a big winter coat (I had to take it to the airport with me). If I had followed the instructions of 8-9 I would have certainly had less to carry! I would have probably also been very cold. I also had to take $2000 in cash, just to get into the airport, so in this situation, I wouldn’t have even arrived in Cambodia. However, there was a reason for this request. Jesus wanted his disciples to rely on God.

Now, to be honest, I am actually pretty poor at this. I am a relatively competent individual – or at least I’ve become adept at applying the adage “fake it until you make it”. I’m relatively good at coming up with solutions to problems and I will plan and write lists for most situations so I know that I have everything in control.

One thing, however, about moving abroad is that it very much reduces your capacity for being competent. In fact, I read a post on the OMF website which very much describes some of the feelings of being abroad. Simple things you take for granted become far harder. Finding certain ingredients or foods in shops. Getting your laundry done. Finding your way around the city. You suddenly become a bit helpless. Sometimes, you find yourself in situations where you have no idea what is happening, or you don’t know how to solve it. It definitely makes you feel less confident in your own abilities.

Now, the temptation here is for you to reassure me. “You’re doing so well!” “You seem to cope in Cambodia perfectly!” However, I’d rather you didn’t. You see, there’s something actually liberating in letting God take control. I’ve been in so many situations where it was me trying to be in charge that caused the most stress. But, once you realise that actually, God never wanted it to be your burden, it’s a lot easier. God wants us to do things in his strength. This is for his glory and our blessing. We do not have the ability to do everything (and on some days, anything). But God does. God created the universe. He is all powerful. He wants to take the weight of any problems or situations.

““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30.

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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?

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 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.

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”