11th February 2024 Thoughts
Reading: Mark 1:29-39
I like Mark's Gospel, it is fast paced and full of action. The events are strung together rather like a string of pearls and the whole is meant to be read as one long narrative not divided into chapters and verses for convenience. In just these ten verses lots happen, Peter's mother in law is healed, other people are healed,Jesus goes off to pray quietly, Peter leads a manhunt to find Jesus and Jesus launches his Galilean ministry.
In Mark's Gospel there is a pattern a rhythm to Jesus' life and ministry public events are followed by private ones. Jesus was baptised publicly then he goes alone into the wilderness, he preaches then privately goes along the seashore and calls the first disciples, he preaches in the synagogue then goes to Peter's home quietly, he heals many and then goes off to be alone with God.
The public is always backed by the private.
Jesus spent time alone with God
If it's good enough and necessary for Jesus how much more for us?
We need to be a people, a church of prayer, everything hinges on this, without the backing of prayer we will achieve good ideas but not God ideas. We can't do God's will without asking him what it is, we need to spend time in prayer.
I don't know if you are like me, I suspect some are, if I am told to do something in a certain way, it has to be done like this, I tend to want to do it differently or at least question why that way.
Tell me I have to pray every morning at a certain time, tell me I have to exercise in a certain way at a certain time, tell me I can't eat certain foods I want them more, and it definitely won't happen, give me a choice and leeway and it might. I don't like going to a gym but I have discovered that I do like playing badminton.
Pray time needn't be rigid
We see prayer as something that is abstract, an exercise to be conquered, an encounter that we know we need to experience but one which we really rather avoid. We know it is something that we need to do but it is also something that we are not sure does much good. But that is because of the way we approach prayer time, as a habit which needs cultivation.
We pray at times like we are checking off some list - we say these words, we ask for these things and then we go about the rest of our day only to return the next morning and do the same things. We don't know if it does any good or not, all we know is that we have been told to pray and if we don't we feel guilty.
Is that what God wants?
An appointment system where we say....ok God I can fit you in at 9am each morning for 10minutes to an hour (if I remember ).
And then how to pray
We can read books on prayer , we can listen to sermons on prayer, some would tell us that there is only one prescribed way to pray and unless we pray this way we are wasting our time. Others tell us just the opposite. If we are not careful we begin to think prayer is some kind of spiritual game in which no one knows the rules if there are actually any rules.
If we say certain words will we get a response, if we pray for the same thing so many times will we get the answer we want, how many people need to agree with us for the prayer to be valid, do we need to ask humbly or wrestle with God the way Jacob did or the widow in the story of the unjust judge?
Is there a right /wrong way to pray?
What is prayer?
It is talking to God, prayer is an ongoing life long conversation
You and I were created for prayer. We were created to have an ongoing relationship with God that naturally includes talking and listening to one another – prayer
Prayer isn't meant to be a chore or duty it is meant to be enjoyable, challenging, and it is meant to change us and how we view the world.
At times it involves debating and testing while at other times it involves thanksgiving and rest.
We don't have to be careful which words to use, we don't have to worry about offending God with our language, with our lack of vocabulary, he understands us, he made us, but more importantly for some unknown reason he loves us.
And he listens to each of us, you know sometimes you can be talking to someone and you know you have lost their attention, the eyes stray, you know they aren't listening, there's a certain expression creeps across the face. God never turns off or looks away, his entire interest is in what we have to say and he is there all the time.
Prayer is not so much a time set aside, although that can be useful, but is a way of life, we need to be in touch with God all day every day.
4th February 2024 Thoughts
Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31
The book of Isaiah, as we have it in our Bibles consists of 66 chapters, it spans the time spent in exile in Babylon as well as the return from exile and the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem. It is thought that the book, which spans such a long period of time, is the work of two or maybe three separate writers. Chapters 1 to 39 are attributed to Proto – Isaiah, 40-55 Deutero – Isaiah and chapters 56-66 Trito – Isaiah. The last chapters being written after the return from Exile.
Does it matter to us who or when the book was written? It matters because it anchors events in history, this is not just some fictional story with fictitious characters but real people who had the same questions about life, about God, about their place in the world. The people who lived through the experiences that the prophets warned about questioned the way God works just as we do.
The writer of chapter 40 to 55 was writing whilst the people were in exile in Babylonia, they had seen, or at least it was within living memory, the destruction of the Temple, the sack of Jerusalem and the misery of exile. For a people whose God resided in a particular place this raised all sorts of questions, how could they worship in a foreign land, how could God care for and protect them in exile. How and when would God intervene and save them? Restore them to their own lands?
Isaiah, who ever he was, seeks to reassure the people that God was not just the God of Jerusalem but was the Creator of the heavens, he is the one who formed the heavens, who spreads them out like a tent, to him the inhabitants below, including Princes and Rulers, are like grasshoppers. He is the one who works through history bringing princes to naught and rulers of the earth to nothing. Even the might of Babylon can and will be destroyed by him. The God, the people know as Yahweh, is not confined to a place but is the Creator of all places and people.
So what is the relevance for us?
We as a nation have not seen our institutions destroyed, we have not been defeated or taken into exile and yet we can look at the world around us and despair, we can look and ask the same questions. Has God abandoned us, has he turned his back in despair? Is he powerless?
We look at Russia and Ukraine, we look at Israel, at Gaza, at China and Taiwan, should we worry about America and who will become the next President?
We could worry about all these situations but we should also know that the God we worship and follow is the God who formed the heavens and who has no equal.
This is our God!
28th January 2024 Thoughts
Reading: Mark 1:21-28
Mark is thought to have been the first Gospel put into a written account rather than being passed on by word of mouth. The author doesn’t do Christmas but starts his narrative with the appearance of John the Baptist. By verse 13 of the first chapter we have met John, Jesus has been baptised and has been sent into the wilderness by the Spirit and has endured 40 days of Satan’s taunting.
There are not many books that have such an action packed beginning. Mark’s Gospel, in fact all of them are not meant to be read in sections, by chapter and verse but as a whole document, if you want to really understand where Mark is coming from, read the whole gospel in one sitting, treat it like a good book that you can’t put down.
Mark’s Gospel is fast paced, it is said that his favourite word is immediately. By verse 21 in this chapter John has been arrested and Jesus has started collecting his disciples. They, as a group, go to Capernaum and as it is a Sabbath Jesus goes to the local synagogue and begins to teach. This would have been normal practice for any would - be Rabbi, the difference was not in what he said but in how he said it. He spoke with authority. Rabbis and teachers of the law would normally quote a former Rabbi, their teaching would be based, not on original thought, but on what a predecessor had said. The nearest Jesus came to this was when he said” Moses taught you……….but I say to you!”
He taught with authority and his hearers were astounded. Mark backs up this assertion of authority by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit recognises and proclaims that Jesus is the Holy One of God, it is rebuked and expelled by Jesus. The people again are dumbfounded and wonder what kind of teaching this is that gives Jesus this air of authority that even the unclean spirits take heed and obey him. This man is The Holy One of God. Even the winds and the waves bow to his authority. It is clear that nothing in all creation is able to stand in the way of God’s presence in Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, the representatives of evil and the powers of darkness all give testimony to this truth.
Jesus is the one who claims the authority to make assertions about the way things are and the way things shall be. Jesus is the one who speaks about the newness of the kingdom of God breaking through and nothing is able to stand in its way. Jesus is the one who speaks on behalf of God.
Some would argue that there is no such thing as a spiritual world, they would dispute the existence of a devil, the existence of angels, of spiritual powers, even of good and evil.
I wonder where you stand? Would you take the view that everything can be explained by science, that the evil spirit in this and in other biblical passages can be explained by mental health issues, by epilepsy or by fits and convulsions. That however does not explain how or why the spirits argue or plead with Jesus to leave them alone or to at least let them enter pigs.
Jesus spoke with authority because he knew who he was and who he was speaking about.
What about us? Can we speak with authority, about what we know of God and his Kingdom, about the relationship we have with Jesus?
Archived Minister's Thoughts
Thoughts are archived after around three months and can be found on the pages linked below.