Kingdom of God

Spiritual Supermarket? (Mark 4:21-25)

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Jesus’ parables are mysterious, ambiguous, surprising, and sometimes they raise more questions than answers.

We know from Mark’s gospel that Jesus spoke in parables all the time to the gathered crowd but then explained everything to his inner circle of disciples (Mark 4:33-34).

Once again, in Mark 4:23-25, Jesus implores the people listening to Him to listen well, to press in and to enquire about what He is teaching them.

Jesus is encouraging intentionality, persistence & eagerness in His hearers encouraging them, that the revelation and understanding they will receive is directly proportional to the degree to which they enquire.

If they listen much, listen well, they will receive much, perceive well! Listening intently and persistently is like an investment that guarantees a return in equal proportion to the amount invested.

So many of us live in a world of ease. Our food comes from the supermarket; it is generally not the result of careful preparing of soil, sowing, watering, weeding, harvesting, but rather a simple transaction involving money.

But for a subsistence farmer, Jesus’ words ring true. There is a straightforward relationship between the degree or measure of effort and intentionality invested by the farmer and the result, the joy and fulfilment and nourishment enjoyed as a result.

This is what Jesus is urging those who are around Him listening. God’s kingdom is like this. As a pastor, I meet people who sometimes lament that they don’t know their Bibles as much as Mr X or Mrs Y. They wish for a deeper love for God, a more robust faith, a life-giving prayer life or heart of worship. But so often they are looking for a ‘spiritual supermarket’ where they can transact for it, go and get it.

But Jesus tells us here that His kingdom, growing in revelation, growing in love for God and relationship with God is not a transaction, there is no ‘spiritual supermarket’ but rather the measure you press into God will be the measure you grow in God.

This is not an earth-shattering revelation, it isn’t complicated, but it is profoundly true.

Those who pay close attention to God’s teachings, to His Word (the Bible), those who invest the time to listen to His voice in daily life – they will receive much from God in terms insight and wisdom into the things of God. That is the person who will grow in God and have a life-giving relationship with God, who will know the joy of faith that is robust and prayer that is vital and powerful.

Brothers and sisters, the measure with which we press into Him is the measure by which we will receive from Him.

This is such an encouragement to keep reading our bibles, to keep going to our Father in prayer, to keep meeting for church on Sunday’s and in small groups, to sit under God’s Word together…

I have found this to be true in my life – the more I diligently seek God, seek to know His ways and His will, the more I come alive spiritually. And as a pastor for many years, I have also found this to be true in others over and over again.

Who wouldn’t want a vibrant spiritual life full of spiritual fruit and abundance, joy, peace, hope and fruitfulness?

Everyone wants that surely. Jesus is telling us, press in, keep investing in your relationship with me, the rewards will never disappoint you.

In closing, the incredible encouragement is that Jesus explained everything to His disciples, His inner circle. Many left after these teachings bemused, but His disciples had personal extra-lessons with fuller explanations and Q&A! Brother or sister, if you have believed in Jesus you have Jesus with you always by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – you are in the inner-circle as it were, you are part of the group Jesus will explain everything to! So be encouraged and keep pressing into Jesus by devoting yourself to His Word and to prayer and fellowship with the saints. Amen.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Authority, Demons & Healing (Mark 1:21-34)

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Authority

Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.  

In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.

In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.

Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.

Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.

But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)

I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)

Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)  

Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.  

When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.

In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;

  • If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
  • And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
  • If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
  • And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain

Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.

Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) 

The demonic realm and demonic influence

Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.

I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.

But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts out; “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!

Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.

We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.

And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.

I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.

There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.  

However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.

Healing

Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.

News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!

What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.

Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.

What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen

Power cords & Love (Colossians 3:14)

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Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)

This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.

That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.

But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!

Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.

And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!

‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!

Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.

Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.

What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!

Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ”  This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!

In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.

So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.

But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.

Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.

Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.

Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.

To Consider:

  • Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
  • Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
  • Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.

No regrets (Colossians 3:1-10)

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I find it such a comfort knowing that we have heaven to look forward to after this life. When I feel harassed and don’t have time for things I love to do, I think that I’ll have all of eternity to do those things. When I miss people who have passed on or friends who live far away, I am comforted to know I’ll see them again, and we will have eternity together. When I get frustrated at things in life that are difficult, I know I have eternity to look forward to without those things.

But, we still have to live and get through tough times and the daily struggles we all face. Our most significant comfort and encouragement of all is knowing that Jesus has given us a new identity. He has saved us from our sinful nature and given us a new nature. It’s like he took the old, dirty clothes we were wearing, and he has given us fresh clothes that are clean and new. The change, however, is on the inside. It’s our hearts that he has transformed.

So, in light of this, Paul encourages the Colossians to set their thinking on heavenly things. That is to put Him first in your life and to live a life worthy of his name.

When I think of putting Jesus first in my life, I imagine all areas of my life revolving around him. My thoughts, my priorities, my choices, my actions; I want them all to reflect that he is the one that everything is centred around. I don’t want to make any decisions or do anything without first assessing, “will this please Jesus?”. I don’t want to say Jesus is important to me, but there is no evidence of that in my time spent, my speech and the way I live.

I think it’s essential to look at your priorities and thoughts and ask yourself if they reflect someone whose focus is on things that are important to Jesus or things that the world says are important. They are very different.

You have been given a new life in Jesus. You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, now get to live in a new way. Your Father is the King of Kings, are you living a life worthy of him? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lists several things that could be lurking in our lives. He is very definite about what to do about them; put them to death, get rid of them, have nothing to do with them.

This side of heaven, we will never be perfect, and we daily have to rely on the grace of Jesus. However, we are being transformed into his likeness as we spend time with him.

When you meet someone who is a Christian, you expect certain things to be true of them. People rub off on us as we spend time together. If we’re spending time with people who are into bad things, it rubs off on us. As we spend time with Jesus, he naturally influences us. We don’t have to try and be more like him; it will just start happening.

There is no better person to emulate. He is everything good. So, take Paul’s advice. Get rid of sin in your life, fix your eyes on Jesus and all that is important to him. It’s a choice you will never regret!

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Life that flows when Jesus is Lord (Colossians 3:17-4:1)

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The little section (3:18-4:1) that follows Colossians 3:17 expands on what it looks like in a number of life-spheres, to have Jesus as our Lord. What it looks like to ‘do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus’, to live a life that is ‘fitting in the Lord’ (vs18) and a life that pleases God (vs20).

Now some of a section like this might ruffle your modern-day feathers and ways of thinking but before you baulk at anything in this section it’s worth noting something…

This section of Scripture is not an appeal to some societal norms at a point in history. Why do I say this? Simply because in just nine verses the imperatives are rooted in the foundation of Jesus being Lord (or some similar phrase) seven times!

This is not some out-dated teaching, but is rather instruction regarding the type of life that is worthy of someone who has been saved by Jesus Christ and who has professed Him as their Lord.

  • ….wives.,submit to your husbands and husbands are to love their wives with gentle affirming love – as this is fitting in the Lord (vs18-19)
  • Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord (vs20)
  • Bondservants (employees), obey…fearing the Lord (vs22)
  • Whatever you do, work heavily, as for the Lord… (vs23) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance (vs24)
  • You are serving the Lord Christ (vs24)
  • Masters treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (4:1)

Jesus as our ‘Lord’ can also be understood as Jesus being our ‘King’. In a king’s kingdom, it’s the king that determines the way that life will be lived out, what will be prioritised and what will be outlawed. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, Jesus becomes our King and our whole lives need to then be lived out according to His plans and purposes, His ways.

Jesus’ kingship over us impacts marriage, family, the workplace, all aspects of our days and lives regardless of what we do for a living. We are not to resemble the world and its ways, we are to be a different people, walking to a different drum beat to that of the world around us.

So read and re-read this passage as a wife or a husband, as a child or parent, as an employer or and employee and whatever you do, whatever is your life situation – do everything remembering that ultimately; “You are serving the Lord Christ” (vs24) as you obey these instructions.

So read and re-read and ask Your LORD and Saviour to speak to you personally about anything you need to be challenged on or anything that needs changing.

 

Upside down right side up (Mark 9:30-50)

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Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom. The King of kings came to serve rather than be served, the last will be first and the first will be last, the weak who lean on God become strong, the seemingly strong will in the end be shown to be weak, the repentant sinner is forgiven and the self-righteous pious one will be condemned…

In Mark 9:33-37 there is an almost embarrassingly honest conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus has just been teaching them about His death and resurrection (Mark 9:31), they are afraid and don’t ask Jesus questions about this but end up discussing amongst themselves who’s going to take the lead when Jesus is gone, a discussion about which one of them is the greatest and therefore by implication should lead next.

Cringe moment! Jesus asks them; “What were you discussing on the way?” (vs33) Silence, you can hear a pin drop. Shame, awkwardness… Nothing else needed to be said in one sense, they knew He knew, they knew they were offside.

Jesus calls the 12 around Himself in the house and says;

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Jesus turns the whole conversation about leadership upside down! Being a leader means being the ‘servant of all’, not being served by all. Being a leader in God’s kingdom means being like Jesus who came; “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Being like Jesus means to value every person, from the littlest to the oldest, from the poorest to the richest, those you get along with easily to those who push every button you have. Receive them, serve them, love them – as you do you’re loving Jesus, loving the Father!

What a challenging passage for any leader! And what if you’re not a leader? Well you too are called to be like Christ, to not be self-centred but Christ-centred who will lead to you to be other-centred, will lead you to serve and value and love.

Help me Lord, help us to be like You more and more. For when we are, when we live out this upside down kingdom value, everything begins to feel and look right side up.