Jesus teaches about taking up your cross (Mark 8:34-38)
There are three words that keep coming to my mind as I read today’s reading, watch the video devotional, think back to the weekend teaching and the small group material, and pretty much everything that we have been considering this far. Those three words are:
Application, application, application!
I have been impressed afresh by the pointlessness, the deceitfulness, the futility, the instability of just hearing the word of God, listening to the word of God, reading the word of God, and not putting it into practice! I am thinking back to Dave’s teaching two Sunday’s ago about the two builders. The man who hears the word of God, but fails to put it into practice, is like the man who builds a house without foundations, on sand. I am reflecting on Rick Warren’s small group lesson, where he reminds us that knowledge of the Bible alone will produce pride, it will puff me up, and it will lead to arrogance and legalism. Knowledge requires action. Knowledge increases responsibility. I have to look in the mirror, see what is being reflected back at me about my life and my heart and my attitudes and my actions – and I have to do something about it!
I have been around church long enough to know professional bible students who have a terrible attitude, an ugly personality, and a mean-spirited approach to everyone around them. They are full of knowledge and very short on love.
And I know enough about myself, as someone who appreciates and seeks to grow in knowledge and understanding, who likes to read and think and analyse, that I am in great need of these three words in increasing measure in my own life.
Anything less and I am deceiving myself. As Rick Warren reminds us, applying the Bible is difficult because it requires serious thinking, Satan will resist us, and we naturally resist change ourselves.
The Micah 6:8 challenge for our groups will give us the opportunity to put what we are learning into practice. To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Please let us know what your group is doing, share it in the comments thread or via email. We can encourage and inspire one another, and maybe even join forces in our efforts to live the word, and not just to learn it.
The acrostic SPACEPETS provides us with a starting point to really probe the text and see how we can apply it in our own life.
And our memory verse for this week is:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 (NIV)).
Jesus heals a deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37)
Jesus takes me aside. Away from the seething crowds. Away from the chaos. I can’t hear any difference, but I can feel it. The peace. The calm. The absence of the crushing crowds. The settling of the dust. I can breathe a little easier; my heart rate starts to slow. I am perspiring. With the effort and the fear of trying to get near to Jesus in the middle of this madding crowd.
Jesus reaches out and he touches me.
He touches my ears. My deaf ears. The place of my infirmity. My years of frustration and isolation and loneliness. The place where no one else can reach me. The years of not being able to hear, to join in conversations, to share in the laughter, in lamp-lit conversations over communal meals. Jesus reaches out and he touches me in this place. He is not just touching my ears, he is touching my heart. He is touching my pain and my sorrow and my frustration and my longings. Of all the years. My yearning to be understood, to hear and to be heard. My deep desire for connectedness and relationship and love.
But he is not finished yet.
He spits on his fingers and he places them on my tongue. My twisted, stumbling, mute tongue. My inability to speak, to communicate, to express my feelings and emotions. I have been locked in silence and isolation and loneliness for so long, not hearing, not speaking; living on the edge, living in the shadows, trying to speak with my eyes, but this has only ever been the tip of the iceberg. As he touches my tongue, Jesus looks up to heaven. There is something fierce in his eyes, frustration, anger, intense love and longing. I feel his sigh as he communicates with his Father. I see his lips moving….. but then something else.
Something I can hardly grasp or understand.
I am hearing sound. Noise. For the first time. And my tongue. My tongue feels like it is on fire. It is moving and free and it is forming sounds that are intelligible. I cannot only feel myself speaking, I can hear the guttural, joy-filled cries that start to form from deep within and rise up over my revitalised vocal chords and tongue.
I am speaking and I am hearing and I am laughing and I am crying. I see deep joy in Jesus’ eyes and he laughs with me. Jesus has opened my ears and he has loosed my tongue, but more than that, he has restored my life.
I have never felt such joy and amazement. In fact I am overwhelmed with amazement and joy. My senses are overloaded with the pure and beautiful goodness of God. I still can’t believe it.
Jesus walks on water (Mark 6:45-51)
Trying to imagine how the disciples felt in this story does not feel that easy. The Sea of Galilee, though I have been there, is a long way from Plymouth. And the concept of Jesus walking on the water is so far from my experience, it is not even on the radar.
But if you look at some of the verbs, and the emotions experienced by the disciples, their experience is not that far from ours….
“[Jesus] saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”
There are certainly some areas in my life where I seem to be straining against an oncoming wind. Circumstances that are not easy, that require extra effort, sustained effort, tiring effort in the face of opposing forces. Progress is slow and is not easy. And this in the darkness with Jesus apparently nowhere to be seen. The passage says that Jesus saw them straining. They couldn’t see him, but he could see them; he knew the effort they were putting in, he was aware of their circumstances. And then he comes to them, walking on the water….
“He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.”
The disciples seem to spend a lot of time being afraid, or terrified! In this instance, as they saw Jesus walking on the water, they cried out. All of these burly fishermen, tanned faces, strong hands, toughened skin from holding the oars and handling the nets, were so frightened that they literally cried out. Screamed? Shouted? Whatever noise they made, they were terrified.
We can identify with fear, with feeling terrified, with crying out to God. Have you been there recently?
“Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.”
Again, this is something that Jesus seems to say a lot. “Take courage….don’t be afraid….fear not.” He said this immediately. He was concerned for them. He acknowledged their fear. And he comforted them. It’s dark, the waves are smacking against the boat, the wind is howling – and Jesus speaks peace and comfort to them.
He does the same for us. It’s not wrong for you to feel afraid, to feel anxious.
"Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed.”
From anxiety to amazement. Jesus gets in the boat, and the wind dies down. Jesus had never taken his eyes off them. He knew they were straining, he understood their fear. But now he is present, and the sea is calmed. Amazement washes over the disciples. What an emotional roller coaster.
These followers of Jesus are not that far from my experience after all. The setting may be different, the scenario changes, but it is still the same Jesus, speaking the same words to us his fearful followers….. “Take courage……don’t be afraid….”
It was a great day in church yesterday, looking at the illumination of the Word of God and the different ways that we need God to open our eyes as we read and meditate on the scriptures. The children (morning) and youth (evening) did a great job, and listening to the congregation belting out "Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet" moved me and Jenny to tears.
Jesus feeds the 5000 (Mark 6:35-44)
Often, we mystify God speaking to us. We think that God only speaks to other people – holy people, super Christians, people who have got their stuff together! Sometimes we dramatize God speaking to us, and imagine prophetic words and dreams and spectacular encounters.
These may well come at times in our life, but the primary way that God speaks to us is through his word – the Bible. If you don’t read the Bible, in all likelihood you are not going to hear God speaking to you very much!
What strikes me as we progress through this 40 day journey is how much God is speaking to me as I take time to meditate on his word, place myself in the story, and immerse myself in the landscape and the narrative. Sentences stand out, words come alive, emotions rise, the scene becomes more vivid and colourful, and I feel a sense of God speaking to me through his word, through these ancient events.
It’s not that hard to hear God speaking, if we clear out the ear wax (confess our sins) and take time to listen and humbly accept the word that is planted in us! God’s word is alive and full of power. I don’t hear God speaking as much as I could because I don’t listen well, I hurry, I get distracted, I skim read, I multitask, I leave my Bible on the shelf.
I want to become a better listener. I want to eliminate hurry from my times with God. I want to link reading the Bible to prayer as I meditate on what I am reading and let the words dwell in me richly.
The video devotional from Pastor Miles McPherson (www.40ditw.com – week 2/day 12) was great today. It focused on Psalm 119:165 – “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Like stepping stones across a river, the word of God is solid rock beneath our feet, and as we face all kinds of challenges in our life, we will not stumble, and we will be guarded ultimately by God’s peace.
May you be filled with God’s peace today. May his word be solid beneath your feet, even as the waters rush by. May you increasingly hear God’s voice speaking to you. May God open your eyes so that you can see wonderful things in his law!
Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman – Mark 5:21-43
Thanks to everyone who has posted their comments on the blog thread so far. It is really encouraging to read them and to hear how the word of God is speaking to different people in different ways. Don’t feel you have to write something profound or clever, just share a little bit about your own experience, good or bad. Join the conversation!
Today’s video devotional is by Nicky Gumbell of Alpha and HTB fame! It is nice to hear a fellow Brit speaking, and Nicki is as good and as clear and straight as ever.
For the reading today, I found it too busy and involved to imagine myself as all the different characters, so I chose the one I resonated with the most, Jairus the ruler of the synagogue, and focused on him and his role in the story.
I am finding this method of Bible reading really helpful. It engages the imagination, it involves you in the story, and it helps you relate at a deeper and more emotional level. Focusing on application and following with prayer, really helps to cement what you have been reading and to try to live it out. This avoids skim reading and surface level information gathering, but it takes a little more time and unhurried attention – which is what I need to be giving to my times with God and his word. Intentionality, time and space remain essential. We all have the same amount of time, we each have to decide how we are going to “spend” this commodity.
The story of Jairus, for me, shows the unimportance of position and human power (synagogue ruler) in the face of major life issues and crises. Suffering and circumstances strip us back to nothing and dispense with the illusion that we are masters of our own fate and in control of everything.
What we ultimately need is Jesus in our house and in our life. We all, like Jairus, need to end up on our knees before Jesus, recognising the limits of our own abilities and power. We see in Jairus a desperation and desire that drives him to prayer and to calling out on God for help.
Also, Jesus encourages Jairus to ignore the reports of no hope, and to place his faith in God. I am encouraged to do the same, to spend more time listening to Jesus and what he has to say about things, rather than the naysayers and the doubters (including the voices in my own head!); not being afraid, but believing in Jesus.
My prayer, for me and you, is to experience interventions of Jesus that leave us, like Jairus and his wife, “completely astonished!” Why not!?
Jesus calms the storm – Mark 4:35-41
The question of faith comes up today, both in the scripture reading, where Jesus asks his disciples, who are fearful in the middle of the storm, “do you still have no faith?”, as well as in the video devotional, where Pastor Buddy Owens challenges us to combine the word of God with faith. He points us towards the book of Hebrews, where we read:
“The message they heard was of no value to them because they did not combine it with faith.” (Hebrews 4:2)
The word of God is at work in those of us who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13) We have to live like we really believe the scriptures and the promises contained in them. As Jesus stated: “According to your faith will it be done to you” (Matthew 9:29).
The picture of the disciples struggling in the storm, a furious squall, where they were nearly swamped, with the waves breaking over their boat, is a powerful one. Jesus is asleep and, to the disciples in their current dilemma, does not seem to care about their plight, their struggles, the fact that they feel like they are going under.
When you are in the middle of the storm, it is hard to “have faith”, sense Jesus, feel like anyone cares. You are too busy bailing out water, and waiting for the next wave to break. You can hardly see past your noise, never mind summon faith.
Whether you are in the middle of a storm at the moment, or are watching on from one of the other boats, as a friend or family member struggles through theirs, try to remind yourself that Jesus is still in the boat, he still commands the waves, he is still present and still powerful. Place your faith in him at this time, take him at his word, for, as we hear in the devotional today:
“When you act on the word of God, the word of God acts on you.”
I hope, as you are progressing through 40 days of the Word, that you will find duty turning to desire turning to delight, as you accustom yourself afresh to eating daily from God’s word.
I pray that you will mix your reading with faith and expectation. Don’t just skim read, “complete your homework”, do your duty; but mix your reading, your listening, with faith, with belief that God is speaking, that you are engaging with the living, life-changing word of God!
Jesus heals a man with a shrivelled hand – Mark 3:1-6
We are continuing with our “picture it” method, placing ourselves in the story, imagining the scene, the smells, the sights, the feelings and emotions, and sensing what God might be saying to us in this story.
I pictured in my mind’s eye the synagogue that I visited in Capernaum, when I went to Israel. It wasn’t very large, it had seats of rock hewn into the sides, it was uncomplicated in its decoration.
The response of the Pharisees in this situation amazes me. They wanted to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath so they could accuse him of breaking the law. They were so legalistic that they were completely unmoved by the fact that Jesus was actually healing people in front of their very eyes. They were so focused on the minutiae, that they missed the miracle. They were so blinded by their wrong thinking that they missed God acting in their midst.
If I’m honest, and I suppose I should be, the person I identified with most as I read this story, was Jesus. It says that “he looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts”…. he reached out and healed the man with the withered hand.
Sometimes I do feel angry and sometimes distressed at the petty-mindedness and the focus on irrelevant things and distractions that stop people seeing and experiencing God in our midst. It comforts me that Jesus felt this way, angry and deeply distressed at stubborn hearts, even as he carried on and did the work of his Father.
However, I am not Jesus. I feel that this is probably not a great revelation to anyone reading these words! There is also the Pharisee in me. There are times when I am stubborn in my heart, there are times when I “sweat the small stuff” and miss the miracle happening in front of me. There are times when I don’t like the way that Jesus is choosing to act or move.
May we all have eyes to see what Jesus is really doing in and around us. May we not focus on the rules so much and become so restricted in our thinking that we miss the healing, we miss the kingdom of God at work among us. May we welcome with open eyes and hearts whatever it is that Jesus chooses to do among us.
Jesus heals a leper – Mark 1:40-45
We are now shifting focus to another type of Bible meditation – actually this is an old method used by Ignatius – picturing a story and placing yourself in it. This can be very powerful and really connect you with what is happening and an aspect of God’s character and love.
I’m loving 40 days and the simple practicality of it! I’ve never been very good at DIY or practical things. Sometimes I simply don’t have the skills, sometimes I don’t have the tools!
And yet I did Woodwork O’level at school and managed to get a B grade at least! What helped me a lot back then was access to a wide range of tools, and the skilful and patient guidance of a good teacher, who showed me how to use them. That really made all the difference.
As Rick Warren points out, he often heard and understood the message growing up in church that he needed to engage with the word of God. What he struggled with was the “how to”? The skills…and the tools that he needed. The purpose of 40 days is to expose us to those tools and to show us how to use them.
As I pictured the story of the leper in today’s reading, the story really came alive to me in many different ways. A man kneeling in desperation before Jesus. Jesus reaching out and touching him – the first human touch he had had probably in many years. The song wafted into my head that we used to sing in church….”He touched me, he touched me, and Oh the joy that filled my soul. Something happened and now I know…he touched me and made me whole.”
It strikes me that I need to spend more time on my knees, seeking the touch of Jesus. He is always willing, and full of compassion.
I pray that he will really touch you as you dedicate this time to seeking him in a new way. May he reach out to you in your desperation and make you whole.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)
This verse is a great promise and encouragement to us as believers. It is written by Paul as he thanks the Christians that have met his needs in very practical ways.
He says, in essence, that he will not be able to return the favour. He doesn’t have many material things to give them. He travels light as he ministers the gospel and makes tents.
But, he says, “MY GOD” - HE will meet all your needs, and he’ll meet them not from some meagre supply; he will meet them from his heavenly supply of glorious riches.
If we had a tour of God’s supply warehouse, it would make Amazon’s giant warehouses seem like a tiny garden shed. God’s warehouse contains a supply of everything that you need – emotionally, physically, spiritually, materially. These are glorious riches, and they are all to be found IN CHRIST JESUS.
It may be that today you need enough grace, sufficient grace, to face incredibly trying circumstances, you need strength, you need encouragement, you need a job, you need emotional healing.
To “supply” means to fill up, make up, make good, complete, supplement, repair. That reminds me of one of our earlier verses this week, that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to COMPLETE it.
God is not finished yet.
The other thing to consider is that many of Paul’s needs were met by God’s people, by other believers. They were the answer to Paul’s prayers. In addition to focusing on and thinking about our own needs, there will definitely be areas, where we will be the answer to someone else’s prayer, where God will supply their need through us. We are, after all, the body of Christ. Be open to the Holy Spirit and to God’s promptings as you think of and pray for and encounter others. You might be the means by which they experience the truth of this verse in their life!
(Don’t forget to check out the video devotionals online at www.40ditw.com. Craig Groeschel’s talk today on living according to God’s word is really good and enlightening!)
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13 (NKJV))
We are approaching the end of the first week and I hope you are encouraged. If you have been engaging with the daily readings, you have been meditating on God’s word, applying it to your life, journaling, praying – and it’s not as hard as you thought!
For me, 40 Days in the Word is the difference between us coming to have a meal served to us, and learning how to cook it ourselves. We are gathering the key ingredients, and we are learning how to rustle up some tasty dishes! We are learning how to cook! We are learning how to read the word and apply it to our lives.
We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!
That verse reminds me of the US presidential campaign by Obama, and his famous slogan: “Yes we can!”, which filled so many people with enthusiasm and hope.
While politicians certainly have some ability to change and influence things for the better, we inevitably find that the promises that are made and the hope for renewal and change soon run out of steam.
“Yes we can!” is a lesson in humanism, in man-made strength and aspiration without God. The Apostle Paul does not stop at “yes we can”…. He continues “yes we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” The Bible says that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. We can do all things THROUGH CHRIST – he is the one that gives us the strength. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.”
This verse is a great combination of optimism and realism – we can do all things!!!....through Christ who strengthens us, not in our own strength.
This works against a defeatist, negative attitude to life… “it’s all too much, I can’t cope, I’ll never make it, I’m no good, things will never get better, why bother trying.”
At the same time it isn’t some triumphalist political statement with little substance to it – hope over experience and reality. It is firmly founded in Christ and his strength – and he is very strong!
Yes we can….do all things through Christ who strengthens us.