Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Help my Unbelief – Mark 9:14-30

verse 20 “So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.” (New International Version)

How I love the less-than-perfect people of the Bible! The characters who falter and fail and show the wrong emotions are the ones who seem so believably human, the ones that most of us can honestly relate to at one time or another. So it is with the father in this passage who cries passionately “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus often meets us at our points of weakness, where we see what we would wish to be and what we truly are.
This is a deeply emotional passage. One can feel the father’s anguish across the centuries. He has watched his son suffer the torment of demonic possession for years, fearing for the boy’s life. It is desperation that has drawn him to Jesus, not faith. Yet in his desperate love he honestly acknowledges his lack of faith and desire to possess it. He weeps. He cries out to God.
Jesus perhaps did not want to add to the man’s anguish by questioning his faith. Rather, he wanted to draw the man into relationship with him first. This story reminds me of the incident with the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (Luke 8:43-48). Jesus had her acknowledge her actions, not because He wanted to embarrass her, but because he wanted her not just to be healed, but to be whole in Him.
Jesus knew this unnamed father’s love for his son and his deeply unselfish desire for the child’s wellbeing. How much more is the love of our heavenly Father towards each of us?
All over the world there are mothers and fathers in grief and despair over their children’s lives. Their children may be dependent on drugs or alcohol, they may have turned away from the faith that was lovingly imparted to them, they may be ill or disabled, or have made wrong choices that have severely impacted their lives. The parents of these children might well be asking “Do I really believe that God can make a difference?” Yet in every case, God is there, waiting. Situations are not always resolved in the way that we would wish, but we are assured, via God’s promises in the Bible, that He will be present with us, that He will provide for our needs, and that we will know the joy of life in eternity with Him beyond this earthly one. 

Saturday, 13 June 2015


"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1: 5-8

When I read these lines written by the apostle Peter to the churches, I wonder if there is any kind of hierarchy in the attributes. Does one lead to another? If we have faith, our belief in Christ should cause us to want to behave well personally and in relation to others. Some Christians, I believe, stop right there. They believe and do good. In the past, to their shame, some ministers of the gospel have deliberately tried to withhold the scriptures from out of the hands of their parishioners. We who have access to a vast resource of teaching materials and the ability to read them are extremely blessed, and there is no excuse not to increase our knowledge of the things of God.
As we know more of God, the more we are able to be wise and discerning when it comes to temptation - we are able to exercise self-control when we are tempted and we are more able to do this long term - to overcome and persevere. We understand what the process of sanctification entails - we earnestly desire to be more like Jesus, and can exhibit godliness, because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, revealing God's loving presence in our lives. 
One of the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit is love - love to our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and to those who do not know Him. In His great passage to the church on love, 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul reminds us that everything that we do must be done in love, or it is ineffective and worthless.
Of course, none of these attributes negates another. We want to have all these qualities in increasing measure. The interesting thing about the Christian life is that it should never be static. We want to learn more, to grow in relationship with God, and to be increasingly more effective in our ministries and witness to others, demonstrating the love with which, while we were still sinners, He first loved us.

Visiting the past

In my thirty something years of church attendance, I’ve attended four different churches and only ever been an official member of one church. For one reason and another, I left that congregation about three years ago. I visit sometimes, realising I’m not a member there any more, just a visitor. Times have moved on, children have grown, other people have come and gone, some people still come to me in friendship and interest, others are probably indifferent to my visiting there. I think of the love and commitment I felt towards that group of people, of all the aspirations I personally had of belonging and contributing and still feel a pang in my heart. I love and care for people there still, and pray for their encouragement and for God's blessing and purposes to be fulfilled there.
I’ve learned that we can have intentions of what we can do for God, only to discover that what He has planned for us can be different.  I know now that for whatever reason, God allowed me to experience a time of turbulence, which, painful as it was, has deepened my walk with Him and dependence on His loving care. I know now that we can all fall prey to our own pride and weaknesses. I've learned the need to work within teams rather than individually. God never wastes anything, and many of the personal trials I’ve experienced over a lifetime have led to study, deeper insights and enabled me to minister to others and work in different settings. Some doors that were only ajar have slammed firmly shut, others have opened in their place, and the journey of my life will no doubt continue through a few more. 

Chinese Garden, Hervey Bay Botanical Gardens

Saturday, 6 June 2015

James and Suffering II

When James begins his epistle to his fellow Christians scattered throughout the nations, he mentions trials and testing in a general sense. As he continues his letter, he begins to explore aspects of the Christian life which cause problems, demonstrate spiritual ignorance or immaturity, and which are a bad witness to the outside world. Note that James’ words are directed to the church, as are the other New Testament epistles. We are sometimes quick to expect the unsaved and unchurched to behave as Christ would have us behave and lament when they don’t, when it is sometimes difficult for Christians to remember to do so.
What are some of the factors that cause division and strife in church communities and other relationships? James lists several, and expands on a couple:
  • doubting – the message of the gospel and its power to transform
  • being “double minded” – unstable, not fixed on the purposes which God has called him or her to.
  • faith without works – not living out what you believe. We are called to “go the extra mile”, to think of others as well as ourselves, to give of our time, efforts and resources for kingdom, rather than personal goals. We are not saved by works, only by the blood of Christ, but our works demonstrate our love for Him.
  • Showing bias and prejudice. The world has its “favourites”- the “stars” that many admire and emulate. As Christians we are not to favour the rich and powerful. Throughout the Bible God calls and uses the weak and powerless of this world for His purposes. Those who have financial resources to donate to church purposes should not do so with the expectation that they now have a power base in the church.
  • Having a reckless tongue. James devotes a large section of his letter to discussing this topic, and the seriousness of the effects of unbridled speech to harm communities cannot be overestimated. Gossip and criticism are the white ants that can completely destroy ministries and churches from within. If a person gossips to you, they will gossip about you. You’re not obliged to pass on information to the ones in the community who need to know everything about everyone. Refuse to join in. Speak well of your brothers and sisters in Christ. If you have a problem with a person, follow Biblical procedures in dealing with the situation. Don’t go around discussing the problem with others and asking them to take sides. If you have a problem with the pastoral team, discuss your concerns with them only. They assume heavy responsibilities and are accountable to God for their actions.
  • wrong desires- being jealous of others and coveting what you don’t have (a direct transgression of the tenth commandment). Sometimes a church community can become a vehicle for power plays and jealousy within the laity. Things like ministry involvement or leadership can become idols in themselves. Nor should we treat God as a spiritual santa.  Asking God for blessings in a self-centred manner is not what He wants. I wonder what James would make of the prosperity gospel. We need wisdom to control our selfishness and desire the more precious gifts of God.
  • Pride, arrogance and boasting. Scripture reminds us to emulate the servant heart of our Saviour, who led by washing the feet of His disciples. We all minister best from a position of humility and genuine love for those who we serve. All credit goes to Him who enables it all – Jesus.
  • Oppressing the poor. Throughout scripture, this has been regarded by God as a serious sin. “The workman is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18). “Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and prosperous ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49). Ministry to the poor and needy was established not only by Christ but was one of the reasons for the appointment of care workers in the church, described in Acts chapter 6.

After this exhaustive list of troublemaking factors, it’s refreshing that James ends his epistle on a positive note. We are not to fear problems in the church, for Jesus has called us to be a unified body, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We serve a conquering Lord, whose power is greater that that of any who would oppose us. When we commit our lives to Christ, His Holy Spirit dwells within, to be our counsellor and earthly guide.
What are some of the results of this indwelling Holy Spirit? James tells us that it produces people who are
  • wise – able to act maturely in relation to others
  • peaceful – mediators and peacemakers
  • gentle and accommodating
  • merciful – forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us
  • full of good works
  • fair and honest
  • enduring – serving Christ in good times and difficult ones
  • overcomers

May God bless you and your church in whatever sphere of ministry you are involved in.