Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Notes from Prayer Meeting 13 Apr 2020

Intro: Praise - 1 Peter 1

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.


Pray for peace in uncertain times
  • Give thanks that God is in control. Even when it seems like things don’t make sense. John Piper said: “Know that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus and doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. Indeed, more than sustains, it sweetens the soul with hope that, for those who trust him, his purposes are kind, even in death.”
  • As our cultural idols of health and wealth are exposed by this virus, pray that many will find true hope in Jesus Christ
  • Pray for particular people you know who need to meet Jesu
  • Pray for those you know who are sick, especially those in our RFC family

Pray for all Churches and for their Leaders
  • Wisdom in public declarations
  • Mobilisation of volunteers
  • Courage and wisdom
  • For RFC specifically that we would fulfil the request given to us by Reading Borough Council to meet the needs of vulnerable people in South Reading.

Pray for those in authority
  • For national government and for your MP
  • For local government e.g. RBC (include any local counselors you know by name)
  • For the police service as they have the unenviable task of enforcing the law / guidance from above and have to deal with a general public who all have their own interpretation of what is acceptable or not.

Pray for those facing economic pressures and job losses
  • The self-employed who have no work atm.
  • For the newly unemployed – signed onto the dole and experiencing the stress of wondering how their application will turn out.
  • For small and medium sized business owners who are losing sleep over the unenviable choices they have to make for their employees and the impacts those choices will have for the employees and their families.
  • For financial help from the government to be wisely and fairly distributed
  • For the wise distribution of the hardship fund set up by RFC

Pray for NHS and health care workers
  • For the right equipment in the right quantity in the right place at the right time
  • For strength and resilience in the face of overwhelming need.
  • For gracious treatment from the families of the sick
  • For the NHS to learn well from this episode and be able to plan well for any future recurrence of a pandemic
  • For those in hospices and care homes looking after the elderly
  • For those who die alone and don’t get to say goodbye to their loved ones because of the need for distancing.
  • For the families of those who won’t get a proper funeral because of the need for mass burials

Pray for social services and other bodies who have to deal with the fallout of this lockdown.
  • For schools who looking after the children of those who are looking after the sick and dying.
  • For social services who are trying to help families in crisis or trying to help mums and / or children who are suffering abuse at the hands of others more than usual due to lockdown.
  • For those working with youth that find themselves with little or nothing (they want) to do and who could get drawn into gangs / drug running.
  • For the charities who are either overwhelmed by the increased need or who are unable to reach out to those they normally care for due to social distancing requirements
  • For the prison service who in a period of overcrowding find themselves with few staff due to many self-isolating due to underlying health issues.
  • For those let out early due to the pressures on the system, not to reoffend when they get out, but to get good role models in their lives.

Friday, 19 April 2019

The Window and the Mirror: A Good Friday Meditation

Windows and mirrors have something in common, they both enable us to see things that ordinarily would remain hidden to us.

We can’t see through walls. Windows enable us to see beyond our field of view into a space which would otherwise have remained invisible to us. Imagine living in a house with no windows. Likewise, God’s heart is hidden from us, but the cross of Jesus Christ is a window onto God’s heart and mind. They are on full display for all to see.

Also, we can’t see what we really look like. Mirrors enable us to see things about ourselves that would otherwise remain invisible to us. Imagine if you had never seen your own face. What idea would you have about yourself? The cross of Jesus Christ holds up a mirror to humanity showing us what we’re really like.

Jesus says it another way in John 3:19-20 “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed."

Jesus is our window onto God’s life, but he is also a mirror held up to ours and whether it’s the passive faithlessness of the disciples deserting Jesus or the active faithlessness of the Jewish and Roman authorities sentencing him to death, all of us, by nature, are lovers of darkness. Isaiah said it well (53:6): “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Our readings from Mark’s gospel help us to see this window/mirror contrast up close. The trauma of the crucifixion reveals the simple, profound and beautiful truth of all Jesus was, and at the same time it revealed how deceived, dark and dysfunctional we are.
  • Where we, like Peter, James and John, were disobedient and prayerless, Jesus wrestled in prayer on our behalf saying: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
  • Where we, like the disciples, refused to stand with Jesus, he stood with us, choosing out of love to bear our disgrace rather than leave us to face the wrath of God as the appropriate consequence of our actions.
  • Where we, like the guilty disciples, fled, because we didn’t want to die, the innocent Jesus offered himself up to die in our place.
  • Where we, like Peter, denied all knowledge of the truth before a low status servant girl, Jesus faithfully confessed the truth before the highest spiritual and political authorities in the world of that time.
  • Where we, like the rulers and authorities of this world, postured before Jesus challenging his seemingly ridiculous claim to be King and Messiah, Jesus silently rested in the confidence that who he was and what he had come to do had been given to him by God the Father and prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures.
  • Where we, like the common people, reviled Jesus because he didn’t do the miracles we hoped to see, Jesus performs the miracle of bearing all our sin and turning the other cheek to their mockery, saying “Father forgive them, they don’t realise what they are doing."
Perhaps the place where this window/mirror contrast is most obvious is when Pilate presents Jesus and Barabbas before the people and asks them to vote for who should be released. Consider what it is he offers them at the Passover festival:
  • Barabbas, is a zealot: a nationalistic, religious freedom-fighter. He will stop at nothing to see his homeland of Judah – the “Kingdom of God”, established in his the pattern of his revolutionary political and religious ideology, free from Roman occupation and with a fully Jewish king on the throne. He has tried to do this by violent force and as a result, he is on trial for murder.
  • Jesus is an itinerant preacher and miracle worker, also looking to establish the kingdom of God, but not by violently kicking out the Romans and re-establishing a pure-bred race, rather, by obedience to his Heavenly Father. It is for his obedience to his Father that he ends up on trial before the people.
  • Matthew tells us in his gospel (27:16-17) that Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas.
  • The name Jesus means “salvation.” The name Barabbas means “son of the father.”
  • So Pilate presents the people with two alternative “Salvations,” two “Sons of the Father.”
  • Jesus Barabbas is mirror to us of our own hearts. He is a treacherous and estranged rebel son made in the image of Adam his spiritual father. Adam, in Genesis 1, was the first “son of the Father.” Barabbas, like Adam, and like us wanted to seize God’s kingdom and establish it on his own terms. The consequence of that action was death for all.
  • Jesus Christ is the true and better Barabbas, the true and obedient son of the Father, who did not seize his Father’s kingdom or try to refashion it in his own image, but by faithful obedience he has established it according to his father’s will, meaning life can now be offered to all.
The crowd, stirred up by the religious authorities, chose to side with the one who is like them – the rebel son of the father, condemning the innocent son of the father to death.

Yet here is a simple but profound picture of the gospel. For as we look in this mirror we remember that we, like Barabbas, were the guilty ones who deserved death, but we go free.

We also look through this window and see how, in love for God and love for us, Jesus suffered on our behalf so that our declaration of acquittal and freedom might not come, like it did for Barabbas, through the false decree of a corrupt legal system, but by the true decree of the eternal, righteous God.

Praise God that when we were at our absolute worst: proud, arrogant, ignorant, self-deceived, mad, rebellious and wicked, to name but a few, God used all our evil actions to work something breathtakingly beautiful and enabling us to born again of the Spirit and to return to him as dearly beloved adopted sons and daughters.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Some Historical Background to Isaiah 8

The bit I didn't have time for from Sunday's Sermon...


The year is 732 B.C. God’s people (in the bottom left-hand corner of the map) have been divided for about 200 years into the northern kingdom of Israel (light green blob) and the southern kingdom of Judah (brown blob). During that time they have had a stormy relationship - sometimes getting on with each other and at other times brutalising each other.

At the point we join the story, relations are at an all-time low and tensions are running high. This is because Israel under King Pekah and Syria, under King Rezin have joined forces to invade Judah and mount a coup to depose Ahaz. They want to place a puppet king known to us only as the “son of Tabeel” on the throne. Understandably, Ahaz is irked by this threat to his kingdom.

Enter Isaiah, God’s prophet who comes to Ahaz and says do not fear, trust in the Lord and all will be well. Problem is, although he had a godly father and was brought up in a godly household, Ahaz has become a spiritually dark whirlwind of a man. He knows all the right Christian jargon to say, but he has no interest in actually following what God says. In fact, he is hell bent on doing the exact opposite. He ignores everything that Isaiah says.

But there’s more to the intrigue. The reason Israel and Syria are ganging up on Judah and trying to mount a coup is because they fear the rising power of Assyria (not the same as Syria) as represented by the large purple blob on the map. Warlord King Tiglath Pileser III is violently and mercilessly throwing his weight around and creating the largest empire in the world at that time. Israel and Syria want Ahaz on board as an ally so that they can have a chance of fighting off the advancing Assyrians. But Ahaz doesn’t want to join forces with them so they decide to take matters into their own hands, trying to force Judah to join them through a coup.

The reason Ahaz ignores Isaiah and doesn’t want to enter into an alliance with Pekah and Rezin is because, deep down he seems infatuated with Tiglath Pilezer III (Tig for short) and when Pekah and Rezin eventually invade, instead of calling on the Lord for help, he sends messages to godless King Tig begging for him to come and rescue him. That rescue comes, but of course, it comes at a price; unswerving allegiance and lots of money for Tig and his empire. This will mean Ahaz raiding God’s house, the temple in Jerusalem, rather than his own, to pay off Assyria and leading God’s people even further into idolatry, forsaking the Lord who loves them.

In short, everyone seems to be bewitched by the power of Assyria, either living in fear of it, like Pekah and Rezin, or wanting to be like it, like Ahaz. Note that the issue here is not politics. The issue is confidence. In the face of the Assyrian threat, Pekah is putting his confidence in a military alliance with Syria (and Judah if he can coerce them) and Ahaz is putting his confidence in being able to win Assyria over. None of these kings are putting their confidence in God.

And it’s not just the kings who are godless, the people too are hell-bent on pursuing their idols with them. They might follow the living God with lip-service, but no-one is actually interested in meaningfully loving and serving the Lord. All the mighty acts of God in the nation’s past have been forgotten. As they place their confidence in the worship of idols, they are about to embrace catastrophe. The very thing they hope will save them, will soon almost destroy them. That’s the problem with idols, you think they will save or prosper you, but they end up destroying you by giving you what you thought you wanted.

Isaiah and the few left with him in Judah who refuse to go along with this idolatry and sham worship are overwhelmed with fear. For they know that the nation’s spiritual treachery will bring down a mighty judgment from God upon everyone, and they will be caught up in the disaster, possibly losing everything they have along with everyone else. It doesn’t really matter whether Ahaz throws his lot in with Tiglath Pileser on the one hand or with Pekah and Rezin on the other, they see beyond the immediate surface things and see that through the pursuit of dark passion and desire God’s people and God’s nation is suicidally bent at every level on its own destruction.

Now there are many differences between this story and our own times, but here are three similarities worth highlighting:
  1. Our current political crisis of deadlock and division over Brexit is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem. Whether in the form of military might in Ahaz’s day or money in our day, everyone seems to be enthralled both individually and collectively to the false god of worldly power and prosperity and what the best way is to get it and keep it. Irrespective of the outcome over the next days, weeks or months - whether Brexit happens or not, pursuit of worldly power and prosperity will eventually bring catastrophe.
  2. The voice of God coming through his faithful ones seems to have no traction in the public debates that are shaping our collective future. None of our leaders are publically seeking God. Whilst many will be praying in private, none are obviously praying. Though God is the reason they exist, people either don’t believe he exists or don’t believe he can help or they have been damaged by hypocrite Christians or they are just not interested in the kind of help he offers.
  3. The few faithful people who are left like Isaiah and others may have lived following God as best they know how, but they and their families will not be sheltered from any turmoil or fallout that may come. What happens to the nation, for better or worse, will also happen to them.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Lifegroup Notes - Followers who Fast - Luke 5:33-35

In the Bible, fasting is always tied to prayer. Just as a Christian understanding of sex is meaningless without marriage, so a Christian understanding of fasting is meaningless without prayer.

Yet, how many Christians do you know who regularly fast and pray?  It has become the deserted discipline of our age. We have sleepwalked into depending on ourselves more than God and into the love of this life more than the eternal life and love of God. When we combine prayer with fasting we become aware of just how much we love the idols of consumption, convenience, comfort, control, conformity, compartmentalisation and compromise among others.

So what is fasting? It’s a mini death and resurrection.  It's emptying ourselves of the temporary life this world offers so that we can be filled with the eternal life that God offers. It’s not abstention, but replacement, not a formula for twisting God’s arm but an orientation of humbling ourselves before God and saying “Your will be done.”

Whilst we might say that many things “give us life” and that we can fast from TV, social media etc. the bible focuses on the kind of fasting that literally gives us life (namely food and drink). Fasting from leisure pursuits so you can pray is good.  Fasting from food and drink so you can pray is better.

In Luke 5:33-35, Jesus says the reason his people will fast is because they long for him. We have great joy in the Gospel, great power in the life of the Spirit, but there is also an unfulfilled longing. Christian fasting is not primarily about mission objectives, but about longing for Jesus. Even if this world was perfect, Christians would still fast because Jesus isn’t here, he hasn’t returned yet.

Whilst there are similarities in the Old and New Testaments, in the Old Testament fasting was shaped by the commands of the law and was for the preservation of the nation.  So in most recorded examples, they would fast when they had to repent of their sin or when they were threatened with annihilation from their enemies. However, in the New Testament, (especially Acts) fasting is powered by the Holy Spirit and becomes more about expansion of the kingdom of God and preparing the earth for Christ’s return.  Prayer and fasting stir up the Spirit in us.  See Luke 4:1 and 4:14.  What difference did prayer and fasting make to Jesus?  See also 2 Tim. 1:6-7.

Some pointers for getting going:
  • Pursue the love of God, not your health goals.
  • Fasting feels pointless, because we like to be in control, but that's the point.  Fasting is about giving control to God and waiting for him to come through.
  • The reason we fast is to make time to pray, so when you fast, change your routine to maximise prayer. But if you can’t change your routine, don’t worry, just pray when you can.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff – if you feel the need to take a fruit juice to help combat dizziness or mental fog, then do it.  Or if your child wants to feed you a bit of their dinner, that doesn’t invalidate your fast. One cornflake won’t kill your hunger and it won't invalidate your fast.
  • Where you can, fast with others so you can encourage each other.
  • Start small and grow in the discipline e.g. "Fast" the first half of your lunch break and go and pray.  It may only be a 30min fast, but it's a start and you can grow from there.
  • Exemptions:
    • Pregnancy and some medical conditions – seek medical advice.
    • Eating disorders, chronic anxiety, insomnia – if you suffer from these or have had a history of them – seek advice before fasting. The problem isn’t the fasting, but the mind games you can play around the fast can quickly become destructive, so be wise.
Some other resources:
Questions:
  1. What stops you from fasting in order to pray?  Which idols above are you quietly / secretly bowing to?
  2. Jesus says that his people will fast because they long for his return, what does that statement provoke in you?
  3. How can you get going in fasting and prayer and what help/support do you need from others in order to do so?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sermon Notes for Confident Adventure #4 :: "Remembering" :: Genesis 17:1-23

Because we can read Abraham’s story in about 25 minutes, it’s easy to miss the weight of the 25 year wait he had to see the promises of God fulfilled to him. Abraham’s faith was best expressed through patience. When you are waiting for something you need to remember why you are doing it otherwise you will lose heart and wander off.

In the Bible remembering isn’t merely the factual recall of trivia like sporting results, it has a moral quality, such as when parking your car on a hill, you must remember to apply the handbrake. Forgetting to do so could have disastrous consequences. If we don’t make it a priority to remember who God is and what he has asked of us, then we will not only harm ourselves, but spread chaos and destruction in his world as well.

The context of Genesis 17 is God restoring Abram after a “fall.” Similarly to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, God seemed not to be acting on his promise to give Abram and Sarai a son, so they took matters into their own hands and got a son (an heir) for Abram via Sarai’s slave woman.

By the time Genesis 17 happens, we’re 13 years on. Ishmael, the son born to Abram via the slave woman is hitting puberty, and therefore manhood and starting to take his place as Abram’s heir apparent. But God turns up and says NO! Abram will have a son via Sarai. Initially, Abram doesn’t want to accept this word from God (not least because it means having to have a really awkward conversation with Ishmael). He wants Ishmael to be accepted by God and doesn’t want to have to start all over again after waiting 24 years to get to this point!

God promises to bless Ishmael. In his mercy, he won’t let Ishmael take the hit for the mistakes of his father and his mother’s mistress, but neither will he let Abram and Sarai’s mistake dictate the course of salvation history – he will do things as he planned them.

To help remind them of his promise, he gives them new names – Abraham and Sarah, a new instruction: Walk before me blamelessly and a new initiation – circumcision. Circumcision was a “sign” which reminded them of God’s promise to Eve (that she would bring forth a son/a “seed”) and also pointed forward to the coming of that seed – the Christ. The cutting away of the foreskin was also symbolic of God’s refusal to allow the potency of man specifically, and the human race generally, to do God’s work for him. We cannot save ourselves, only a miracle of God can do it.

To his credit, Abraham doesn’t sulk under a tree when he realizes God is yanking him back onto the right track, rather he humbles himself, immediately obeying what God has said.

Today, we are not circumcised, because the promised coming of the “seed” (Gen 3:15) has been fulfilled in Christ. Our sign of being God’s covenant people is baptism. Just as what happened to Abraham (circumcision) had to happen to his household, so too, what happened to Christ has to happen to us otherwise we do not belong to him. If we believe in Christ we must be baptized in water and the Spirit like he was (Matt.3). Baptism is symbolic of a past “dying” to our old way of life in rebellion to God and being raised up to live for God by the power of the Spirit. It’s also a reminder that one day, when Christ comes again, he will raise us from the dead, the work of the Spirit will be perfected in us and we will live with God forever in the new creation.

To that end, we must cultivate regular, routine remembrance of God, for this gives life our souls.
  • Confession: declaring to our hearts and to God who God is and who we are as a result of all his goodness to us. Thanksgiving and praise: the things that should flow from confession.
  • Bible reading: this is the main and plain, bread and butter way God speaks to us. Fasting: humbling ourselves, emptying ourselves and recognizing that all our power to do what pleases God comes from him not us. Prayer: talking to God, reflecting on all that we are learning from him.
  • Simplicity: renouncing the lie, that the joy of our life comes from the glitzy abundance of possessions, accolades and entertainment and embracing a kind of Celebration that takes the greatest joy from seeing God do amazing and deep things in the hearts of people – including us.
  • Solitude: being one to one with God and shutting out the clamour of both the outside world and our anxious hearts so that we can wholly be with him and Gathering with the people of God so that they can help keep us on the straight and narrow path, as well as encourage us to keep going on it when times are tough.
  • Serving one another: sharing the load of all that God has asked us to do so that no one person or group of people burn out and… Being served. We all love being served, when the service makes much of us, but we don't like being served if it means we must admit weakness. At times like these, it is hard for us to accept help, but don’t let pride rob you of an opportunity to receive God’s grace in this form.
As we do these things regularly, little by little, we will build a massive reservoir of testimony and legacy that will be remembered before the throne of God, with praise, forever.

Suggested questions:
  • What is the thing you have had to wait longest on God for? Are you still waiting for it? Would you have the patience to wait 25 years for God to fulfil a promise to you like Abraham and Sarah did?
  • When we have invested much time, money and effort into something and God says no to it, it is a hard word to receive. Has this ever happened to you, what was it and how did you respond – with obedience or denial? Or are you going through it now? God is asking you to revoke a mistake you have invested in for years, and you are finding it hard to renounce. What help do you need to go God’s way?
  • Have you been baptized in water and the Spirit, if not what is stopping you from obeying God’s command on this and following in the footsteps of the Master?
  • Of the “routines of remembrance” that give life to the soul which ones do you find easy, which ones do you find hard? What’s the next step you need to take in order to allow God to breathe life into your soul? How can we help each other cultivate these?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The What and the Why of Biblical Fasting

A quick search on the internet will give you all kinds of ways and tips on how to fast. My aim is not to repeat all that good advice, rather it’s to give you a few biblical encouragements as to the what and why of fasting.

Firstly, fasting is not a uniquely Christian activity, nor does it have in and of itself of any spiritual value. It’s like money, its value comes in how you use it. When done well, fasting increases our appetite for God, brings our hearts in line with his, enables us to feel the kinds of deep longings that we know we should feel for him and makes us sensitive to the Spirit’s voice in our hearts. However, when it’s done badly, it makes us grumpy, self-obsessed, proud and entitled. Bad fasting makes God the servant of our agenda, rather than making us the servants of his.

Secondly, fasting without praying is like turning up to the cinema, but not going in to watch the film. There’s no point to it. That statement has to come with caveats, of course. We must avoid the fallacy of suggesting that a certain amount of prayer will obtain a certain amount of blessing. Nothing in the Bible makes such a crude formulaic connection. For example, a single person who can spend an extra hour a day praying when they fast, does not automatically, receive more blessing than the parent who can only spend an extra ten minutes praying in the day because they have to prepare meals for their kids and put them to bed etc. And there are always unforeseen things that call us away at certain times from the praying we set out to do. We don’t need to feel guilty about that. But all that said, fasting without making some conscious decision and effort to seek God in prayer either on our own or with others is pointless. God is our heavenly father, not our heavenly formula. He knows our hearts and the constraints on our time and energy. He sees the steps we make towards him (as well as the excuses) and is more than able to show us how to use what we have to honour him and bless the world. He is the multiplier of our efforts, not us.

Thirdly, by not eating, we remind ourselves that the body, as important as it is, is not the ultimate reality of our lives, our souls are. And when we use our time fast and seek God, we give a nourishing boost and “growth spurt” to our souls, (which by the way, will continue to grow in God forever when they get new bodies, after the death of these ones). Fasting is the deliberate humbling of these bodies of ours with all their desires, reminding them of their proper place in the order of the universe as servants of our souls, not masters of them, helping us to submit to God. It is the opportunity to remind our hearts of what is truly real and what will last forever, not just what will last for this lifetime.

Fourthly, fasting is not limited to food, you can fast from leisure activities too. But food and drink fasting and fasting from sleep are the only kinds done in the Bible and the benefit of fasting from food or sleep is that every time you have a rumble in your stomach or feel weary, it reminds you to lift your eyes to heaven and say “Jesus our eyes are upon you to do all that you have promised. Thank you for calling me into your amazing adventure. Help me to be obedient and effective in all that you desire!”

So why not fast? If you have fasted a meal before, why not fast a whole day? If you have fasted a whole day, why not fast a few days etc. What have you got to lose?

If you have never done it before, then try skipping a meal. For example, skip the evening meal and go to your bedroom, read the bible and then pray. Or skip lunch and go for a walk in a local park and pray as you walk. If you have a small child who is no longer breastfeeding, why not fast lunch and then pray when your child is napping? There are endless possibilities, we just need a little imagination and encouragement from others who have done it before.

Nothing truly great comes easy and yes, it is hard at times, but the benefits always outweigh the costs because, as we often say, you can never out give God. He will always give us more than we give to him.

Whatever you decide. be accountable to someone and remember, the main thing is to pray like Jesus prayed – that God’s kingdom becomes a reality on the earth like it already is in Heaven.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Notes on Mark 10:35-52

This week our text considers two requests made to Jesus. They made their requests face to face, but we make our requests to him through prayer, and prayer at its simplest form is talking with God.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he has told his disciples that the time has come for him to be crucified (10:32-34). The disciples are terrified by this for once they are done with Jesus, will the authorities not then turn on Jesus’ followers in an effort to “cleanse” the nation of his teaching? Along with this fear the disciples’ sense of self-importance is bubbling up to the surface as they argue about who of them is the greatest.

James and John figure that if they are to suffer with Jesus they want to be guaranteed some kind of reward in the next life so they “ask” if they can be enthroned next to him in eternity. They had spent three years with the greatest person who has ever walked the earth yet instead of imitating his example, they want to use their privileged position with him to secure honour for themselves.

Jesus, knowing the tumble of emotions going on within them, indirectly and lovingly rebukes them by showing them a better way. Heaven is a world of love, where there is no grabbing at status or compensation, instead all serve one another for that is what love does. Those who seek positions and honour have not yet truly understood or been perfected by love. Love serves all without finding fault.

Mark then shows us perfectly how Jesus is full of love and service and recounts the healing of blind man, Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus in Aramaic meant “son of impurity."  Due to, amongst other things, a misinterpretation of Leviticus 21:16-23, the culture of Jesus’ day looked down on disabled people, not just as less useful, but as spiritually unworthy people. In healing this man, Jesus not only gives him the precious gift of sight, but symbolically makes him fit for worship and service to God.

The disciples are too busy wallowing in their sorrow, fear and sense of self-importance to hear this cry of faith and desperation. In calling Jesus the Son of David, Bartimaeus is expressing faith that Jesus is the Messiah and that he has power to restore all things – including his sight. And when his sight is restored, he beholds the saviour of the world. Imagine that moment.

Jesus asked the same question to both James and John and Bartimaeus, but he got very different responses. He asks, not because he doesn’t know the answer, but because he wants us to lay hearts bare before him and for us to realise what is in our hearts. What do you want Jesus to do for you today?

Let us learn to ask like Bartimaeus in faith and humility, recognising our true and desperate need and seeking mercy and grace. And as we ask like Bartimaeus, let us be like Jesus – laying down our lives in service to all, not dictating the terms like James and John, but obeying whatever it is that Jesus asks of us.  Serving not just the people we like or who are like us or who we think will be useful to us at some point, but serving all without finding fault in them, without expecting anything in return and seeking their true flourishing as we lead some of them, one day, to Christ.

There is an abundance of grace, but there is not an abundance of choice, we either pick up our cross and follow Jesus in humble, joyful service or we don’t. There is an abundance of grace, but there is not an abundance of time. In eternity, time will be a abundant, but in this life it is a precious resource, don’t waste it – choose obedience and choose it quickly.

Questions:
  • What would have been going through your mind if you were one of the disciples following Jesus to his death in Jerusalem?
  • In what ways are you tempted to dictate to Jesus the terms of how you serve him?
  • What had James and John not yet understood about love and God's kingdom? Have you understood it yet?
  • Who are the Bartimaeuses in your life, can Jesus rely on you to bring them to him or are you too absorbed in your own world to notice?
  • What do you need the Holy Spirit’s help with as a result of thinking on these things?