Monday, 27 June 2011

A Request Too Far

Jesus: Lord of all, King of Kings. Yet he cannot grant the request of the sons of Zebedee (Mark 10:35 - 45). Their request, it seems, is a request too far.

Compare v35 with 11:24. Just a chapter apart, using the same words 'whatever (you/we) ask', and yet entirely opposite ends of the spectrum. Its not even as if James and John were going to skimp on their commitment - v39 indicates they are to go the same way as Jesus, a scary way that he has just spelt out for a third time (v32-33). Yet the 'whatever' in this case cannot be promised.

The difference is surely the object of faith and the intended purposes. The incident in chapter 11 is a call to put one's faith in God and what He is doing. If you line up with that, anything is possible - from withering fig trees to dramatically changing circumstances.

The contrary is one's own purposes which all too quickly boil down to self-glorification (10:37). I guess that now seems obvious. The worrying thing, though, is that these contrasting verses indicate that the dividing line between the two can sometimes be incredibly thin.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Us and not Them

Any group naturally forms a sense of identity. We all do it. Especially in our churches. Of course the way we do it is right, and the way of others not so right. After all, there are good reasons why we have our church and they have theirs...

Funnily enough this 'us and not them' attitude was even around in Jesus' day, before any churches had actually started, or a single basis of faith had been presented for signature!

Look at Mark 9:38 with the telling words 'he was not one of us'. Not a member of our group, so cannot possibly be following right teaching, believing the right things, entering by the narrow gate ... or is that 'our' narrow gate?

Jesus demonstrates a more generous approach. Of course not everyone who calls him 'Lord' will enter (see Matthew 7), as graphically illustrated in Acts 19, so a considered generous approach seems to be necessary. Yet with our tendency to build hard boundaries we would do well to remind ourselves of this episode in Mark from time to time.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Stock up on Affirmation

In my last post we looked at how Jesus' way was the way of the cross, and being a disciple for sure means following on the same kind of course. That's not easy, and Jesus didn't try and dress it up to make it look more appealing.

Yet God doesn't leave us without resources for such a difficult journey. The very next episode is the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13).  This extraordinary event goes beyond what is normal, and note how within it are the affirming words of v7. Apart from anything else, it seems that at this point Jesus was stocked up with affirmation from his heavenly Father, affirmation that he was indeed on the right track.

When we have to face a difficult episode God doesn't leave us stranded on our own, but drops things in that enables us to keep going through the circumstances. It might be a 'mountaintop' experience, or it might be words spoken to us even through another person, but somehow God will get through that He is with us. Such a supernatural lift might be just what we need to continue on the hard course and not deviate onto the easier options.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Choose Your Messiah Carefully

Mark 8 records another one of those 'switch' points in the story, this time where Peter declares Jesus as the Messiah (v29). Things had been going well: the tally of miracles and healings nicely accumulating, and the Pharisees put in their place on more than a few occasions. Next stop surely the Romans in Jerusalem!

Yet the real 'switch' is v31, where Jesus starts teaching about what must actually happen. It doesn't sound very Messiah-like, and soon Peter wants to get this negative talk straightened out. Today we really cannot appreciate how strange Jesus' words must have sounded to people who were so totally up for a leader who would ride on in triumph. The talk of rejection and being killed was probably so odd that they didn't even hear the words about rising again.

The trouble is Jesus doesn't stop there. For this Messiah is looking for followers who will be up for a similar pattern of life-laying-down. Within a few sentences discipleship suddenly just got a whole lot harder.

We all have our own pre-conceived ideas of what our saviour-hero should be like, or indeed what they should do for us. What does your 'Messiah' look like?

Yet Jesus calls us to choose between these pre-conceptions and a way which involves not getting everything your own way. And how we choose now can have ramifications for the future (v38).

So weigh it all up, and choose your Messiah very carefully.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ministry Cycle

I sometimes wonder if we get the pattern of ministry all wrong. We often make alot of effort to make ministry available (in whatever form) 'all the time' (be it every day, every week for 52 weeks of the year etc.). We do well at mustering resources to support this, building appropriate infrastructure, support etc. to enable it all to happen.

From a couple of episodes in Mark 6,  one could argue for a different approach. In v6-13 they are sent out with minimal resources. They are going to have to rely on whatever God turns up for them. Success was not guaranteed (v11).

And then in v30-32, on their return, Jesus takes them on a retreat. Time to refresh in His presence.

Quite different to the 'resource for continuous ministry' model.

Okay, so the needs are always there and can tend to cram in on us (v33f), but still the time alone was sought out (v45 - 46).

Maybe we would be better to try and identify cycles: stepping out in faith, going with what He gives, and then returning for deliberate periods of refreshment in His presence.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Human Factors vs God Factors

Mark 6:1 - 6 records a sad occasion. The people in Jesus' home town proved to be full of unbelief and ministry opportunities turn out to be threadbare.

The problem is that the people looked at all the human factors. After all they knew Jesus as one of their own, and could name his parents and siblings. Surely he was no one special, he was one of them. Why should he be any different?

They saw Jesus the man. Just a man.

With their eyes, concentrating on all the human factors ('this is what we know ...'), they weren't able to see the God factors that were right in front of them.

Sometimes, whilst remaining wise and prudent, we have to let down our guard that is built out of human factors in order to see what God is doing before us.

If we don't, we risk our whole perception becoming rigged against what God is actually doing. In such a scenario we will find ministry is threadbare, we contribute to the loneliness of those God is ministering through, and we should not be surprised if they move on.

Monday, 6 June 2011

What was he thinking?

Jesus used parables. We all know that. Some are deep, some are fun, some are great for making into sketches etc.

But don't they make things harder to understand? Why not spell things out direct, crystal clear, line by line. Surely that would make more sense, avoid room for mis-understanding, get straight to the point.

Note in Mark's gospel how it kind of seems like he actually 'switched ' into using parables (round about 3:20f). Perhaps this was a response to his authority (in driving out demons) being directly challenged. For at this point onwards he seems to want to separate people into the hearers and non-hearers, an effect achieved by using parables.

Yet here is something even more curious, especially for us as we work out how to do mission. Mark tells us that Jesus explained stuff later to his close followers (4:10, 33-34), and yet Mark himself only records a couple of these explanations. Why doesn't Mark give us the detailed handbook to spell things out clearly?

It strikes me Mark was writing with mission purpose, telling people about Jesus and his work through the book. Does the book generally keep to the original parables to have the same separating effect?

Maybe there are times when working with people we need to use the parables, and through them discover who is really interested and who is only there for the beer.

Friday, 3 June 2011

On the Move

If you want to look at Jesus you have to be prepared to take a journey. Jesus simply can't be treated as an interesting museum piece, static, frozen in time for all to view at their leisure.

No, Jesus was on the move. Mark's Gospel soon has Jesus moving on to somewhere else, apparently often leaving crowds, fans and supporters behind. In the first three chapters alone just look how many times moving on/out/up/back figures in the story.

Yet this dynamic nature extended to those he interacted with too. He was moving, and he wouldn't allow others to remain static either. He calls to follow, he sends the cleansed-leper on his way, he commands the paralysed to walk, he gets Levi to round up his (dubious) mates and so on.

To encounter Jesus requires and inevitably leads to movement. Karl Barth wrote that theology must follow the living God. Yes if we are to understand God, we are going to have to be on the move.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Lonely Walk of Ministry

Mark's gospel accumulates momentum incredibly rapidly. By v15 Jesus has already been baptised by John, led into the wilderness, and is ready to declare "The time has come".

With power encounters in v21f there has hardly been time to get followers on board and already news about him is spreading, crowds are gathering.

Jesus' itinerary seems rapid-fire too. v38 has him moving on leaving an apparent revival behind, which leads to yet more driving out demons and healing. With all this 'good stuff' going on, it seems hard to imagine how ministry could get any better.

Yet by v45, i.e. before we have even made it to chapter 2, Jesus is forced to hang out in lonely places. For Jesus, popularity does not necessarily equate to staying on the correct course, and so he is forced out to the margins.

The walk of ministry, even with so much blessing and goodness happening amongst so many people, can turn out to be a lonely road to take.