Wandering in the dark and walking in the light

‘Once again Jesus addressed the people: “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life.’” (John 8.12 New English Bible).

The REB revisers changed this NEB translation to the more common ‘no follower of mine shall walk in darkness’, but I’m struck by the vividness of the NEB rendering: ‘wander in the dark’. I’ve done a lot of that wandering in the dark, trying to find the right way forward. It might be a relational issue with a friend or loved one, or a problem in my parish that I need to find a solution for, or a time when my relationship with God seems to have gone dry and barren, or my struggles with my own sins and weaknesses. I seem to spend a lot of time wandering in the dark.

Today’s psalm includes the familiar verse ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path’ (Psalm 119.105 REB). What the psalmist says about the Torah, or Law of God, John’s gospel applies to Jesus: he is the Word of God, so he is the light of the world. His light shines in the dark places and shows us how to live, how to love, how to serve God, how to be a blessing. The opposite of ‘wandering in the dark’ is following Jesus. Lord Jesus, help us today to intentionally shape our lives after your teaching and example. You have shown us the way, so now help us to follow it—to follow you—so that we may have the light of life. Amen.

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Wisdom

‘The child (Jesus) grew big and strong and full of wisdom; and God’s favour was upon him.’ (Luke 2.36 REB)

‘As Jesus grew he advanced in wisdom and in favour with God and men.’ (Luke 2.52 REB)

As I get older, I find that wisdom is a gift I prize more and more highly. Wisdom means knowing how to live and what to do in all the situations life throws at us. Heavenly wisdom is informed and shaped by faith in God and God’s will for us. Several Old Testament texts tell us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (fear, not in the sense of terror, but in the sense of a proper awe and reverence for God as our Creator).

Lord Jesus, as you were guided by your Father, so guide us today in the way of wisdom. Amen.

Desertion

‘Then the disciples all abandoned Jesus and ran away.’ (Mark 14.50 REB)

The Bible is not a book of heroes. It’s a book of ordinary, scared, fallible, imperfect human beings who are touched by God and yet still struggle with our human propensity to mess things up.

Lord, you know that I am not a hero. There have been times when I’ve stepped up to the plate and owned up to my faith in the company of others. But there have also been times when I’ve deserted you. Sometimes when the going got tough and a challenging word needed to be spoken, or a difficult deed done, I’ve preferred to run away, or just keep quiet.

Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for the times I’ve deserted you. Teach me the faithfulness and courage I need so I can follow you in the way of the cross. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Numbers 11:24 – 13:33, Mark 14:22-52, Psalm 52, and Proverbs 11:1-30

The Way Up is Down

‘So they came to Capernaum; and when Jesus had gone indoors, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a child, set him in front of them, and put his arm round him. “Whoever receives a child like this in my name,” he said, “receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9.33-37 Revised English Bible)

In recent years there have been literally hundreds of books published about church leadership. Many of them say that the proper role of a pastor is not actually to be a servant, but to be a leader. You need to let others do the serving, while you cast a vision, inspire them, equip them etc. etc.

I find it interesting that Jesus led by example, and the example he gave was not just teaching and vision casting, but included huge helpings of serving others. He never seems to have thought that he should get out of the healing business himself so he could organize the healing roster and start new classes for healers. No, he chose a few disciples, let them watch him heal the sick, and then invited them to follow his example.

Jesus says, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” (v.35) When Jesus was looking for leaders, he looked for those who had the potential to be good servants (Even though their hearts were sometimes seduced by the leadership bug too). Looking at the political chaos in many parts of the world today, it strikes me that Jesus was onto something. The world is plagued by leaders who only want to be leaders—to build their own empires and line their own pockets. To Jesus, in contrast, the way up is down. He’s looking for people who are competing with each other to get to the back of the line. I need to hear that this morning.

Lord Jesus, deliver me from the love of power and prestige and help me follow you in the way of loving service. Amen.

(Today’s One-Year Bible readings are Leviticus 22:17 – 23:44, Mark 9:30 – 10:12, Psalm 44:1-8, and Proverbs 10:19)

Take Note of What You Hear

‘Jesus also said to them, “Take note of what you hear; the measure you give is the measure you will receive, with something more besides. For those who have will be given more, and those who have not will forfeit even what they have.”’ (Mark 4.24-25 REB)

“Take note of what you hear.” This little phrase alerts us to the fact that this passage isn’t about giving and receiving in general, but about ‘giving attention’ (we might even say ‘paying’ attention) to what you hear.

All too often, when I hear the words of Jesus read in public or in my own private devotions, I quickly move on to the next item on my agenda. I don’t take time, think, meditate, pray about what I’ve heard. I don’t “take note of what I hear.”

“The measure you give is the measure you will receive,” says Jesus. You get out what you put in. To truly meditate on a text takes time and patience. It can’t be rushed. But it is a vital part of Christian discipleship.

Lord, forgive me for so often being in a hurry, or just being too lazy to out in the effort required. Help me make it a priority, not just to hear or read your words, but to ‘take note of what I hear’, and put it into practice. Amen.

(Today’s One-Year Bible readings are Leviticus 7:28 – 9:6, Mark 3:31 – 4:25, Psalm 37:12-29, and Proverbs 10:5)

The Gospel of God

‘After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent, and believe the gospel.”…Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”’ (Mark 1.12-13, 17 Revised English Bible)

I like to find little Gospel summaries in the pages of scripture. I don’t believe there is any one exhaustive statement of what the Gospel (‘good news’) is, but there are many explorations of it.

In this passage the ‘gospel of God’ that Jesus announces is ‘The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you’. The kingdom of God isn’t about going heaven when we die. It’s about the answer to our prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”. When God’s just and loving will is done on earth as in heaven, God’s kingdom is upon us. The Gospel invitation is to put our faith in this good news and to repent – i.e. to change the direction of our lives so that rather than living out of the values of the kingdom of evil, we live into the values of the coming kingdom of God.

But that’s not all. Every disciple of the kingdom is also called to be an agent of the kingdom. As soon as they accept the call to be disciples, Jesus begins to make his new friends ‘fishers of people’. They spent years learning the skills and patience of fishermen. Now they will begin to learn a new set of skills, which will need even more patience and reliance on God. The kingdom of God advances one heart at a time, as the new disciples spread its message of hope and invite people to come in.

Is this a scary thing? It doesn’t have to be. It’s not about Bible-bashing or manipulation. It’s simply about living our lives openly, in such a way that our words and actions are a good advertisement for the hope of the gospel. And when opportunities for conversation arise, it’s about being willing to take them, trusting that the results will be in God’s hands.

Lord Jesus, thank you for calling us into your kingdom of justice and love. Make us fishers of men and women, so that your justice and love will spread throughout the world. Amen.

(One Year Bible readings for February 15th are Exodus 39:1 – 40:38, Mark 1:1-28, Psalm 35:1-16, and Proverbs 9:11-12)

Some Were Doubtful

‘The eleven disciples made their way to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to meet him. When they saw him, they knelt in worship, though some were doubtful.’ (Matthew 28.16-16 REB)

“If the risen Jesus would just appear to me like he did to the first disciples, I’d find it so much easier to believe!”

Well, maybe. But Matthew is totally honest about the response of the first disciples to the risen Jesus. ‘They knelt in worship, though some were doubtful’.

We find that incredible. We assume that ‘seeing is believing’. But in fact seeing is not always believing. Sometimes we literally don’t believe our eyes. Our brain tells us this is impossible, it can’t possibly be true. It must be a hallucination or a trick. And so we reject it, even when the miracle is standing right in front of us in plain sight.

We never get to the place in the Christian life where a decision of faith is no longer necessary. God doesn’t appear to want us to be able to treat faith like math, with the answer to the sum obvious for all to see. He wants us to make a choice about it. He doesn’t offer infallible proof — he offers a relationship.

At the end of the chapter he invites us to be his disciples, to be baptized as a sign of our enrolment in his school of discipleship, and then to learn to live by his teaching. As we follow him, we learn to believe in him. But we still struggle with doubt from time to time. There’s nothing unusual or culpable about that. For myself, I’ve always found that the best way to deal with doubts is to go back to the teaching of Jesus, find something he obviously wants me to work on, and get busy learning to practice it. As I follow, the doubts become less of an issue.

Lord Jesus, we would so like to see you risen from the dead! But instead you invite us to know you by following you in our daily lives. Help us in that journey of discipleship, and when we doubt, help us to continue to be faithful to you. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible passages are Exodus 37:1 – 38:31, Matthew 28:1-20, Psalm 34:11-22, and Proverbs 9:9-10)