Mark 1:9-13

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

[No pic this week :(]

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Recognise What is true

Verse 9: Jesus comes out to John to be baptised. Baptism is about repentance and forgiveness. If Jesus is without sin, why does he seek baptism? Is baptism important even without sin? Perhaps, although Jesus is without sin, he doesn’t “assume” he is without sin, or claim entitlements on that basis.

Verse 11: I enjoy saying this phrase about my son, only half in jest because it is true. I also wonder about God saying it to me (& by extension to everyone, or at least to those who have sought and received baptism). A confirmation of my intimate relationship with God, and of his continuing love and support.

Verses 10 & 12: The Spirit acts immediately on baptism. In verse 10 it descends on the baptisee (?), then in verse 12 it drives the baptisee out into the wilderness. Seeking and receiving baptism is an invitation to the Spirit. More mundanely and practically, I could see myself being filled with enthusiasm after such a landmark event.

Verses 12 & 13: Why does the Spirit drag me off into the wilderness to face trials? What does that mean? (In this passage I am seeing Christ as a kind of everyman, and this episode as a description of baptism.) The Holy Spirit objectively knows the best path from where I am now to salvation, and will pull me along that path. Being pulled along that path will force me to face certain obstacles and confront certain weaknesses. Thse confrontations will be the ones that are necessary, whether I like it or not — not the ones I would chose. The Spirit confronts Jesus with the Devil himself.

From a more psychological perpective: when I am enthused and inspired by baptism and the Holy Spirit, my internal battle becomes stronger — not just to forego indulgence today, but to become a new kind of person. As well as my desire to be good and to follow Jesus, I have these other desires and weaknesses — lust, anxiety, sarcasm, … I have to own up and admit I enjoy these things. These demons (which are part of me) will put up more of a fight when they know I am trying to give them up for good.

Though to take

I am very struck that even Jesus seeks out and receives baptism, even when surely he needs no forgiveness. That speaks of a profound humility, which I love.

I haven’t taken baptism but I do feel that my struggles have heightened since I’ve been thinking of myself as Christian. I had been experiencing those struggles as personal failures. Verse 13 tells me (I think) that the Spirit is dragging me to face these challenges. These are the things I must overcome and leave behind. I must make that decision now rather than later.

TtT

  • Seek and receive baptism
  • The Holy Spirit brings challenges as well as guidance

Help, Yield

Over the past few weeks, remembering that the Holy Spirit brings challenges has helped me push myself through difficulty, resist indulgence, and give attention and affection to others (even when I am struck down by Man Flu!).

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AFK

Back next week.

Mark 1: 7-8

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

Like Mark points away from himself towards the Gospel, John points away from himself towards Christ, and the forthcoming real baptism.

I struggle to imagine what being baptised with the Holy Spirit would be like. In being baptised in water by a person, I am taking part in a ritual that stands for something else; being baptised with the Holy Spirit by Jesus would be real forgiveness, real acceptance and real empowerment.

In my imagination baptism has a strong sensual aspect too (although I’ve never knowingly been baptised) — immersion in water, washing away sins. I can’t help wondering about sensual aspects of the Holy Spirit.

Though to take

These puzzles possessed me so much I failed to see the most important point. Just like the people from Jerusalem went to John seeking baptism and forgiveness, I must go to Jesus, and repent, and ask for forgiveness.

TtT

  • Go to Jesus, repent my sins, ask for forgiveness

Help, Yield

I think I’ve been running away from that thought this last week or so.

Regime

I realised too late that today was actually Friday and not Thursday. I had written out the week’s verses (Mark 1:7-8), and I have been pondering productively through the week, but I didn’t have time to write up and publish (after I realised that it was indeed Friday). And I shan’t have decent writing opportunity (this doesn’t count) until Sunday evening.

Part of me thinks, “What have I got myself into? I’ve got too much to do already!”

A stronger part of me thinks that this is not an onerous task, it will do me a lot of good, and the discipline will have a beneficial effect on other parts of my life.

So the weekly plan is still the aim.

Mark 1:6

[Office internet was down last Friday hence late posting.]

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

John is an outsider — part of the wilderness.

The points raised here are not held against John. They are used to show that John is not worldly or graceful.

This lack is worth pointing out because it shows that John was focussed on more important things: his mission as baptist and forerunner.

Though to take

John knew his mission was important so he kept his focus on that and was not distracted by worldly temptations. I am not good as resisting distractions. I can be better at that by having more faith in my mission — not as grand as John’s, but in some ways the same. My real mission, over and above providing for my family, is preparing the way for the Lord, bringing Him closer to earth and earth closer to Him.

TtT

  • Be clear about what my mission really is
  • Have faith in my mission

Help, Yield

This positive message has helped keep me on the straight and narrow.

Mark 1: 4-5

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

Mark does not think John’s background or history are important to relate. What is important is what John is doing now.

John is baptising “in the wilderness” — away from the hurly-burly of the town, away from the established churches, away from where people live and work normally. People are “going out to him” — John is not baptising where people are already, they are taking a journey to go and meet him.

Irrelevant perhaps, but I can’t help recalling that “in the wilderness” is where Jesus is taken and tempted by the devil (verse 12, a different bit of wilderness perhaps).

Baptism involves: going out, confessing sins, repenting, and receiving forgiveness. Forgiveness is not given by the person baptising, but by the higher authority (?). The confession is public, at least in the sense that it is given to another person.

Though to take

This process of confession and repentance — including having that process recognised — will free me from the sins I have committed. Free me from guilt and remorse, and more importantly, free me from the demonic pull to sin again. It doesn’t seem to be something I can do alone … and it’ll be a long time before I can confess anything to anyone IRL.

Confession in prayer is not effective: it is irregular, it is separated from the moment, it feels fleeting and ephemeral. By the end of the day (when I pray) I often have more than one thing to confess (!) and I will generally dwell on one of them. At bedtime I’m mostly thinking about my family and my wife.

An apology is a bit like a confession. An apology is recognised like a confession is. An apology is about something specific. I shall be eager to apologise when I sin against people around me.

I want to confess failures promptly. One way I can do this is with written confessional prayers. Opening my diary and writing down the confession will take me out of my day. The writing and addressing the confession to God will challenge me to be specific and sincere, and to reach out for the help I need. Receiving forgiveness there and then, in the aftermath of shame, will help attach the forgiveness to the sin and help me remember and avoid next time I am tempted.

TtT

  • Confess and repent, and receive forgiveness.
  • Confess in the moment, confess specifically.

Help, Yield

I had a bad relapse last Friday (in fact last week was a very relapsy week) and read this passage soon afterwards. Remorse and my failure to extricate myself were very much in my mind. Reading these verses exacerbated that.

This week these verses have weighed on my mind, and that has kept me from failing in the same way.

This week I apologised promptly to my sister for a fairly gratuitous slight.

This morning I had a little victory over myself, opting for the right actions and ways of thinking.

Mark 1: 1-3

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise what is true

The other gospels open with a rhetorical flourish (Matthew’s genealogy, Luke’s letter to his patron, John’s allusion to Genesis), but Mark is relatively plain and to the point.

Verse 2 quietly asserts the relevance of the Old Testament to Christians — not just as prophecy, but also as interpretation and commentary.

The quotation prepares the reader for the introduction of John the Baptist in the next verses.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord” was the opening song from a musical called Godspell, that my mother was a big fan of in the early 70s.

Thought to take

Reading now, I want to be such a messenger — preparing the way of/for Christ, and leading others to do the same. That must include settings an example of how to live, as well as explicitly promoting the Gospel. I also want to be a messenger for Christ to myself, to make my own paths straight — or, to make the Lord’s paths straight by walking them myself.

I shall be a good messenger for Christ. Always be ready to receive messages from Christ, listen and watch. Take and treasure messages and deliver them carefully, to others and to myself.

I shall not run for messages from other sources. On receiving a bogus message (profane prompts, sinful urges) I shall hit pause, and look to Christ for resolution.

TtT

  • Be a messenger for Christ
  • Make His paths straight

Help

The slogan “Make His Paths Straight” has been useful for the most trivial things and the most foundational things — motivating me to keep my time organised at work, to carve through drudgery efficiently and cheerfully, to get up if I wake early instead of dozing listlessly. Although I am tired and anxious about work, this slogan has urged me to (try and) put that aside when my wife or our son are near, and to give them my full attention.

Yield

Receiving a message from Christ would be an honour and a joy. Unfortunately, my receiver works rather intermittently. It’s quite good during quiet times or prayer times, the rest of the time I need to work on picking up His signal over my internal noise.

It’s easy to say I am pulled aside by temptation, but I choose to follow those signals.

I pray this study course will bring Him closer to my heartbeat.

Worthy

I have been enjoying taking part in Beth Steffaniak’s Scripture reading groups on Facebook. We have studied 1 & 2 Samuel from the Old Testament, New Testament letters like Philippians, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter, as well as themed courses of study. Beth uses a framework she has designed called “Worthy” which helps approach and engage with a passage of Scripture.

I have enjoyed the groups, and using the Worthy method so much, I am going to try and read the Gospel of Mark using the same method. (First reading is here.)

Some of Beth’s Worthy resources

Two blog posts:

One YouTube video:

The Worthy Method (as I understand it)

The WORTHY acrostic expands into six phases of studying and responding to Scripture:

  • Welcome the Lord
  • Observe what the Scripture says
  • Recognise what is true
  • Thought to take
  • Help
  • Yield to God’s truth

* Welcome

Create a peaceful time and space to Welcome the Lord, accept His presence, and create the right atmosphere to open myself to Scripture.

* Observe

Notice in detail what is in the text. Beth suggests reading the passage aloud several times, writing it out word-for-word. After that it might be helpful to explain certain terms or phrases (e.g., who is Melchizedek?).

* Recognise

Write out all my thoughts about the passage: what appeals to me, what challenges me, what confuses me or passes me by. This section should be free and open-ended and thorough.

* Thought to take

How does the passage challenge me to change or help me see a way forward? Respond personnally to the passage and commit to taking its wisdom to heart.

T2t

Summarise the Thought to Take section in a bite-sized statement or a slogan that I can take with me through the week.

* Help

Apply the Scripture to my daily living. Seek God’s help to live out the Scripture’s wisdom. Share what I have learnt and extend God’s help to others.

* Yield

This phase is about applying the Scripture too, this time in about areas where I struggle to surrender, or temptations that I face. Let the Scripture help me let go of my immediate impulses and desires, and give me strength to cover my weaknesses.

My weekly plan

Beth’s reading groups have a reading every day. I am going to aim for one reading per week.

  • Over the weekend I shall choose the next reading (e.g., the next two-to-three verses of Mark).
  • Early in the week I shall write out the verses longhand. With my coloured pencils I will annotate or decorate the verse meaningfully.
  • Before midweek I shall write the Observe, Recognise and Though to Take sections.
  • Through the week I shall find and notice opportunities to Help and Yield.
  • Before Friday I shall post a summary to this blog.

Men

There are two things about my Christian blog/twitter reading that I’d like to change. I do try to tackle these periodically but generally end up back where I started.

  • Almost all the bloggers I read are from the US, none are Brits.
  • All the bloggers I read regularly (actually only three) are women.

The first is not a big deal. It might be nice to hear some voices from closer to home but otoh those voices will bring a lot of local cultural and political baggage that I am not interested in.

The second point is perhaps more interesting, especially given some of the issues I am dealing with on this blog. So why don’t I read more — any — male Christian bloggers?

Many of the male Christian bloggers I’ve come across seem much too keen (for my taste) to lay down the law, as if their role model is Paul rather than Jesus. Women bloggers are much more like, “Here I am, a Christian”. In the women’s blogs the law (I mean the Good News) speaks through a person’s life; in the men’s blogs the law is stated as such, with examples (sometimes from the blogger’s own life).

This might only go for American men (US masculinity seems very narrow); it might only be the tiny sample I’ve come across.

Perhaps I just prefer women’s voices.

Perhaps there is nothing to be explained: I’ve been blogging in this persona for 4 1/2 years and I’ve only found three blogs I like enough to read regularly. Perhaps I just have very high standards.

Anyway, I am going to make a conscious effort to step outside of my comfort zone of these three blogs and seek out (a) British voices and (b) men’s voices.

How, I don’t know. Perhaps run twitter searches for “Philippians” and see what turns up.

All recommendations and suggestions welcome.

A life of two halves

I am 51. My birthday is mixed up with Christmas and New Year so I have always taken the season personally.

In my early 40s I started to think I was middle-aged. Turning 50 and 51 I start to think I am getting old, moving into end times. These are the ready-made cultural scripts we are given.

Then I remembered that my mother-in-law is in her 90s and is physically and mentally healthy and independent. People are living longer, and more healthily and actively than ever before, and that progress is continuing. I could easily live to be over 100. The composer Elliott Carter was active at the forefont of his field right until his death in 2012 at the age of 103. No need to turn in at 50 or 60 or 70.

If I live to be 100 I am only just into the second half (if I count only my adult life, I’m still in the first half).

Half-time is a good time to be born again, and to relaunch myself. I can think of my adult life so far as a kind of second childhood or gestation. I look forward to 50 years of new life.

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