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.

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 Timothy 2

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. I’ve reached a controversial part of the Bible. This is probably a good time to address some things. First, I’d like to point out that this blog is really just for myself. I enjoy blogging and if you stumble across this blog then great. If you stumble across this blog, disagree, then you can walk away quietly. It wasn’t meant for you anyway. Why blog, then? I think I need a sense that there is an audience, whether fictive or not, to help me articulate my thoughts.

However, in this post, there’s not going to be much to disagree with, bringing me to my second point. I’m not going to engage too much with these sections, mainly because I don’t think I have the authority or the knowledge to do so. You could argue that it’s typical white male privilege or intellectual sloppiness, but it is one of the issues (one of the many topics of the Bible) that I’d like to research a bit more before giving my two cents on. What I have to say isn’t really worth much and it’s probably better to read and listen first.

So, this might be a bit of a post that talks more about how to address these types of issues rather than addressing the issues.

So, this chapter starts with encouraging prayers and petitions – for all people, which is interesting. Then it narrows its focus to those in authority. Luckily, I’m a day ahead on this one. Just as I process the Bible by writing (on this here blog), and have a book where I write out my prayers. I did pray for Donald Trump and for Boris Johnson. Whether you agree with them or voted (or would have voted) for them or not, you should still pray for them. I’m not sure Paul was a fan of the Roman rules (especially as they imprisoned and killed him), but he still said we should pray.

We should especially be praying, in the light of verse 4, for their faith and salvation. Trump says he’s a believer, although others argue his read the wrong book, and I don’t know about Johnson. Hun Sen (the leader of my adopted home) is Buddhist. But I should be praying for them and their salvation. For God is a kind God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” What a wonderful saviour we have! A lot of politicians wouldn’t be on my priority list, but God still wants them.

I think it’s easy for us to think of them as different and somehow lofty and unreal. But they are humans, and God still sees them as people made in his image that have been corrupted by sin. God still sent his son to die for them, from dictators to incompetent leaders and everyone in between. God humbles rulers and exalts servants, so to him, we are all one and the same. And we should try to see our leaders with the same compassion and love as he does. I know I fail and get angry. But, it’s also worth praying that God softens our hearts too. Verse 8 tells us to pray, with raised arms, without anger or disputing. It’s a somewhat strange and alien concept in the age of twitter witch hunts and petty politic-fuelled squabbles. So, I think I should try to be better at this. So, I shall try (and probably fail quite often) to respond in prayer at the next frustrating twitter or facebook post than ranting and arguing.

1 Thessalonians 4 and 5

Both chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Thessalonians are relatively short, so I decided to combine them. Also, I need to make up for lost time, as I slid off the wagon for a week or so. Many people’s lives have been turned upside. My change in routine has been minimal, which has been enough to sideline my Bible-reading habits. But I will press on.

Verse 1 and 2 of chapter 4 asks the Thessalonians to do more of the same. They’re doing the right things, so Paul simply tells them to do it more and more. I pray that I can do the right things more and more as well. Hopefully, as I do the right things more, it’ll crowd out the opportunities to get it wrong.

Verse 3 says that it is God’s will that we are sanctified. One (correct) reading of this is that we should be obedient to this. However, it also reminds me that God is on my side with this – he wants it to happen and will make it happen if I cooperate and submit myself to him. Therefore, let God’s will be done!

Our purity is rather significant, because we should pursue it and “anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” This is somewhat trouble and a good reminder of what disobedience to his word actually is. It is an unwillingness to accept God and a desire to reject him.

Verse 11 is somewhat interesting too, especially in the light of megachurch pastors and Christian “celebrities”. God calls us to have a quiet life. Not an outrageous and a loud life. That’s something interesting to think about. It is this that wins the respect of outsiders, not the loud trumpet call and the soap-box evangelism. There is (probably) a place for this and a Biblical reasoning. I’ve yet to wrestle with this idea further. (This is something I love about reading the Bible: when you don’t actually know what it fully entails or means. It just fires up my curiosity.)

The last section of chapter 4 is about believers that have died. These words were meant to be an encouragement to those in Thessalonica. However, they can be an encouragement to us now, especially with the global tragedy of coronavirus.

Chapter 5, again, is relevant to today, but perhaps less encouraging. It talks about how suddenly destruction can come. Christians, however, are to be sober, thoughtful and proactive, even during times of suffering and even on the Day of the Lord.

The final instructions are helpful reminders of what to do, especially during the coronavirus outbreak as well:

  • warn the idle and disruptive,
  • encourage others,
  • help the weak,
  • be patient with everyone,
  • strive to do what is good for everyone,
  • rejoice always,
  • pray continuously,
  • give thanks in all circumstances.

And as we do this, may the grace of God be with us.

Stay safe.

1 Thessalonians 1

This letter to the Thessalonians is full of warmth and encouragement. Again, Paul starts out with a similar greeting to before: he is thankful for the believers in that city and he remembers them in his prayers.

The context of this letter is oppression, persecution and difficulty. But the first chapter seems overwhelmingly positive. Yes, there are mentions of “endurance” and “severe suffering”, but those phrases are surrounded by words such as “joy”, “love” and “hope”. It seems relevant that in complex and difficult times, with the COVID-19 spreading all around, that such words about suffering can be found in the mist of words about joy, faith, love and hope. They are not mutual exclusive and in fact I wonder in the positive was made more evident because of the difficulties.

I really enjoyed verse 5 that the gospel “came to [them] not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” It reminds me of Colossians 1, where it speaks of the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is a message with its own inherent power. It also shows the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in belief. I think this power, the Holy Spirit and conviction are all intertwined to make believers who endure.

The Thessalonians’ reputation had spread, and their “faith in God has become known everywhere.” It would be amazing to have a faith that is known everywhere. I wish to be a man of that kind of reputation: faith in severe suffering; endurance in troubles; joy-filled and hopeful in difficulties.

Joel 1

After reading through Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, I thought I would turn to the Old Testament. I don’t know much about the minor prophets, so I thought I would start with Joel.

Joel is pretty bleak. It’s about a devastating locust swarm and how it has destroyed the nation. The description is pretty discouraging: waves of locusts eating what the last wave had left. Food, wine, temple offerings, all gone and eaten.

Joel then tells the people to mourn this loss, to put on sackcloths, weep like a virgin who has lost her fiancé. The elders, priests and people are called to cry out to the Lord.

It’s interesting because there are currently locust swarms destroy huge quantities of crops in East Africa and Pakistan and its surrounding countries. In one day, apparently one swarm can eat as much as 35,000 would. That is terrible. Now they are mating, meaning another swarm is coming. It looks like what happened in Joel.

And yet where are the sackcloths and where is the mourning? Who is praying and crying out to the Lord for these nations. South Sudan, which has already been destroyed by conflict, has been hit. As a church, I think we need to get better at crying out about these terrible things that are happening.

Colossians 4

Colossians 4 has some further instructions. These include prayer, watching and thanking. Then the instructions turn to the work of evangelism: pray that the gospel spreads, praying for those who preach it to be clear, being wise towards non-believers, making the most of opportunities, considering your words and how they proclaim the gospel, having the answers.

Then the letter ends with specific greetings and words of encouragement. What amazes me is the level of the care between the believers. Paul had never actually met the believers in Colossae but here he is writing a long letter. There are also so many connections and people Paul commends, that it suggests that there was some sort of network. Furthermore, they just seemed to want to know news from other churches. In the UK, often other churches don’t really know what each other are doing. Here in Cambodia, especially among the expat churches there seems to be more cross-over. However, there is perhaps a lack of unity among local believers and denominations, which is sad. It’d be nice to see this level of care between different congregations here.

Colossians 1:1-12

I love that many of Paul’s letters start with prayers of thanksgiving for the people it’s addressed to. It’s much nice than our usual, “How was your holiday to Majorca? Colossians is no exception in this.

Colossians talks about the gospel and I really love these verses:

… In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world — just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

Verse 6

I love that Paul is talking about the gospel having a power to be fruitful and to grow and spread. I pray that this continues today so that every tongue and tribe may know the gospel of Jesus.

And then again comes a really awesome prayer for the Colossians church.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Verses 9-12

That is one long sentence. However, those verses deserve breaking down a little bit. So these are things I’ve noticed:

  • Paul’s commitment to praying for believers. Not only does he write these prayers in his letters, but I believe him when he says he hasn’t stopped praying for them.
  • That God gives wisdom and understanding, not Wikipedia or CNN or clever books. We need the Holy Spirit in us for this.
  • This wisdom and understanding serves to glorify and please God. Anything that claims to be wisdom and understanding but doesn’t do that is just fake.
  • God causes our good works to bear fruit – not us.
  • God gives us knowledge of himself.
  • God strengthens us. And not just a little, he strengthens us with all power according to his glorious might. His might is indeed glorious – it made the whole world after all.
  • This power results in patience and endurance.
  • We should give thanks joyfully.
  • God qualifies us; we don’t qualify ourselves through our own efforts.
  • We share in the inheritance of holy people.
  • We belong to the kingdom of the light.

Wow, all that in three verses.

I’ll stop there for now, because the next section of Colossians 1 is great and equally packed. So, to avoid this becoming an essay, I’ll leave it there.

Philippians 4

The first verse of this chapter is lovely. Paul address his readers as brothers and sisters whom he loves and longs for, then calling them dear friends. He tells them to stay firm in the Lord.

Theres also mention of Euodia and Syntyche, two women in the church who Paul addresses.

Then Paul reminds us again to rejoice. In face he says it twice. He tells us how to do it, pray with thanksgiving and not to be anxious about anything. He also tells us to be gentle to everyone. It’s interesting what Paul equates with rejoicing and what he doesn’t. Not being gentle and being anxious will rob you of joy. Praying, asking and thanking, brings reasons to rejoice. Then we will have peace which is incomprehensible in the situations we face. It’s also interesting that this peace guards and protects us.

Paul also tells us where to concentrate our thoughts. We are to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.

Now in the previous post, I seem to have a bit of a rant about “positive psychology”. This is the idea that thinking about good things creates good things. But here it is, in the Bible. Paul thought about it first! It’s in fact proven that gratitude (or thankfulness) keeps you happier. And here Paul is saying it 2000 years ago.

However, given the context it and the words it uses, it’s pretty much telling us to place our thoughts on God, Jesus and all the good things they’ve given us. We are to think of all good things, and remember all good things come from God. Then, when we have remembered this, we can rejoice with thanksgiving.

Paul then tells us that he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances. And it’s no wonder. Paul has trained himself to do these things:

  • rejoice always;
  • be thankful;
  • be kind to one another;
  • look to God for solutions;
  • think about good things;
  • not to be anxious.

If we follow these steps, then I’m sure we can learn to be content in whatever circumstances too.

Philippians 1

First, does anyone else have trouble spelling Philippians? Is it two ls, two ps? Oh, you do? Great.

Philippians is a letter to former Roman soldiers who are now believers in the city of Philippi. They have been very supportive of Paul during his time in prison, which perhaps is why he writes so warmly towards them. I love how Paul says “I thank my God every time I remember you” and that when he prays for the he “always prays with joy”. What a lovely thing to say.

Paul also talks about God’s transforming work in believers:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

verse 6

Paul again speaks of how we are currently redeemed and transformed, and will continue to be transformed until we are with Jesus in heaven. It’s such a hope-filled statement and reassuring to us as we struggle with our sinful natures.

Again, Paul writes a beautiful prayer for his readers:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

verses 9-11

I pray this prayer for myself as well, and hope that it becomes a reality in my life.

After this, Paul encourages those in Philippi by telling how his hardships have served to advance the gospel. It seems passive at first, that it just sort of happened that way, but it was an intentional choice of Paul. It challenges us today to use our struggles and difficulties to advance the gospel and to proclaim Christ. It’s often the case that during struggles and hardships we become inclined to be self-serving, introspective and somewhat self-absorbed. However, during Paul’s time of immense difficulty, he still considered how this could be used to see Jesus proclaimed.

Such was his desire to see Christ proclaimed, he didn’t care that people were doing it to cause him trouble. He only cared that Christ was being glorified. Often, we question the motives of pastors or preachers. However, rather than focusing on that, perhaps we should pray that Christ is seen regardless.

Paul does not care whether he live or die. In fact, he would rather die because it would mean being with Christ. However, he feels that Christ still has a job for him to do here so that Christ’s glory may be further known. Paul wants to remain so “that through my being with you again your boasting Christ Jesus will abound on account of me” (verse 26). Isn’t it amazing that this is Paul’s first and foremost concern: Christ’s glory.

Because Paul is passionate about this, he extols his readers to live in a way that brings honour to Christ:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…

Verse 27

The “whatever happens” is a bit of challenge. On my bad days, on the days where the whatevers are unpleasant or exhausting or frustrating, I’m not sure my conduct is always worthy of the gospel of Christ. In fact, I’m sure the opposite is true. So, again, I pray that whatever happens, I live a pure and blameless life worth of the gospel of Christ.