Mark 1:35-45 – Learn to read the Bible #5

I’ve just published the fifth part of the Learn to read the Bible series on Mark’s Gospel. This week we are looking at Mark 1:35-45, when Jesus prays early in the morning and then heals a man with leprosy.

For those who are coming to this new, the idea behind this series is not for me to simply explain everything to you, but rather to give you things to think about yourself. This is about training you to read the Bible for yourself, rather than just giving you all the answers!

You can read the passage online here (although I’d suggest it’s better in a physical Bible). You may also want to have a pen and paper handy to jot down notes and things you want to look into more.

Key points from Mark 1:35-45

These are the things in the video I highlight (plus one I forgot to mention!)

  • Jesus went to a solitary place to play. What does that say about the importance of prayer? How important should prayer be for us?
  • Jesus tells us that he came to preach (v38). What does that say about Jesus’ priorities, especially when compared with his miracles etc?
  • Jesus heals a man with leprosy. You might find it helpful to think about what it meant to be “unclean” – see e.g. this article. Jesus didn’t simply heal a man with an illness, but made an unclean man clean. That should help us understand more what Jesus was doing. Is there anything which makes us “unclean” before God?…
  • One thing I forgot to mention in the video! – Jesus is willing to make the man clean (v41). What does this say about Jesus’ love and compassion?
  • Jesus’ fame is spreading but he tries to hide it again. Jesus is different to many other religious leaders who want to spread their own fame!

Looking for more?

You can see the rest of the videos in this series on the this page. If you’d like a more focussed series teaching the Christian faith, check out the teaching programme.

You might also want to see the previous episode in the series on Mark 1:21-34.

Giving & Money – Living as a Christian part 7

In this video we look at the issue of money and giving. The Bible has a lot to say about how we use our money, and it’s an important part of the Christian life.

In this session we cover:

  • What the Bible has to say about money and the love of money;
  • The Old Testament principle of tithing;
  • The New Testament principle of generosity;
  • How we should put that into practice today.

This is part 7 of the “How to Live as a Christian” video course. In due course, this will be available as a as a course for you to complete as part of the teaching programme.

The How to Live as a Christian series is designed to help new (and not-so-new) Christians get up to speed about living in the way God wants us to. It’s designed to be practical, so that it’s not just all about the theory. You can check out all the videos so far on the YouTube playlist, or if you prefer you can read the whole series.

When church is meaningless | Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 Sermon

A sermon on Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, part of a sermon series on Ecclesiastes preached at our church.

In the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes we’ve thought about how life is meaningless without God. But can that even apply to church? How can we “do” church so that it’s not meaningless?

This is one of the passages in Ecclesiastes where the writer throws us a curveball, so to speak: he helps us to understand that the worship of God is not a tickbox exercise but must be from the heart to be useful.

Read the passage online via Bible Gateway.

You can see the previous sermon on Ecclesiastes here.

Can men and women be friends?

A few years ago I started up a website called Friend Zone, looking at the question of whether men and women could be friends. Unfortunately I had to pull the plug on the website earlier this year. It never really got off the ground, and it didn’t feel right having a separate website about it. However, I think there is still a need for it and I have decided to make the content available here. I’ve created a separate Friend Zone feature especially for friendship content.

I used to blog regularly on Friend Zone, so to celebrate getting the content available here I’m going to re-post one of the more popular blog posts.

Can men and women overcome attraction to be friends?

Someone asked me a very good question after watching my story yesterday:

what happens when you do find a friend of the opposite sex attractive/they find you attractive, but you’re married – do you think friendship is still possible in such a case? Has it been so in your experience? Or do you think it’s best to distance yourself?

Now this is a key question, and one which lies close to the heart of Friend Zone. Is it possible to tame the beast of sexual attraction? Is it possible to have a ‘platonic’ friendship?

My answer to these questions is ‘yes’ – although you have to proceed with caution! I’m going to build on what I’ve already written elsewhere about Sexual Immorality and Practical Steps.

Attraction is not one-dimensional

Have you ever had the experience where you first met someone and didn’t really think that much of them –  but once you started to get to know them, they became more attractive to you? Attraction is a funny thing, and it’s complicated. I’ve come to believe that often there’s more going on with attraction than meets the eye. It’s easy to get things confused. Let me try and explain. I think attraction has a good and a bad side. You could call them love and lust.

Love says, “I like you, I want to spend time with you and be your friend, I desire what is good for you”. By contrast, Lust says “I want you only for your body and what you can do for me”.

The problem is, they usually come together and it’s easy to confuse one for the other. In my Practical Steps piece, I talk about sin being a distortion – and I think this is what’s going on here. Lust is distorted love. It recognises goodness and beauty – but it wants that beauty for itself.

Men, women and friendship: there is a third way!

Anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than about five minutes will know that you can’t spend your life ignoring people you’re attracted to (or, indeed, who find you attractive). I think most people deal with by keeping those people at arms length. That is, if they don’t cave into temptation! And people think these are the only two options: either stay away from someone, or give in to temptation. What the Bible says, however, is that there is a third way.

I believe the Bible says we can move toward the other person in love. Instead of backing away in fear, or moving forward in lust, we can move forward in love. This is what I believe God wants us to do. Love is what we should be about as human beings. We shouldn’t cut someone off in fear as much as we shouldn’t treat them badly with lust. But – it is difficult to do. The sexualisation of our culture makes it very hard to experience attraction as anything other than sexual. But with God, all things are possible.

God is the only one who can really change our hearts. He can take away lust and put love in its place. He can enable us to conquer feelings of sexual attraction and form genuine friendships.

In fact, on a personal note, I think it’s often those who I struggle with most who God wants me to befriend. God does this so that it is clear friendship only happens because of his grace, not because of my own strength. God doesn’t want us to be independent, self-sufficient people, living without him – he wants us to live our lives in relationship with him. Sometimes he calls us to do things which we would never otherwise be able to do so that we will be forced to rely on him and deepen that most important relationship.

A note (or two) of caution

To finish with, just in case I sound overly positive, I think it’s important to sound a note of caution. We live in a world where sin exists – people do have affairs, relationships do break up, etc. That’s why I needed to create Friend Zone!

Firstly, it’s important to remember what Jeremiah said about our hearts:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

Our hearts are deceitful and ‘beyond cure’ – from a human perspective. God gives us new hearts – this is absolutely and gloriously true – but we need to be sure that we are dealing with sin on God’s terms and in God’s ways, not ours. God’s ways are repentance (turning away from sin and to Christ), and then turning to him in faith. We must constantly be coming to God in prayer and asking him for the power to live in his ways. If we start to think we have the strength to do it without God, we will almost certainly fall. “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Secondly, it’s important to remember that relationships always take two: just because you have a particular idea about what’s going on, it doesn’t mean the other person does. The other person might have a very different idea. I think it’s important to be open, and important to be up front – if it is unclear – that friendship is all you want. Misunderstanding is easy – we need wisdom to ensure that we don’t mislead anyone. This is something I’m still working on – maybe another blog post to come?…

In Summary

Yes – I do believe that attraction can conquered, lust can be dealt with, and friendship can happen despite these difficulties.

I do apologise if all of this has felt a little bit cold and theoretical: I’d love to hear from you about how this works out in your life. Do comment below or get in touch to share your story.

You can read more about this in the Friend Zone section. There are lots of good resources, one I could particularly recommend as an introduction is Why Can’t We be Friends? by Aimee Byrd.

Serving others – Living as a Christian part 6

In this video we think about how we can serve others – our church, our neighbours, and our community.

This is part 6 of the “How to Live as a Christian” video course. In due course, this will be available as a as a course for you to complete as part of the teaching programme.

The How to Live as a Christian series is designed to help new (and not-so-new) Christians get up to speed about living in the way God wants us to. It’s designed to be practical, so that it’s not just all about the theory. You can check out all the videos so far on the YouTube playlist, or if you prefer you can read the whole series.

Mark 1:21-34 – Learn to read the Bible #4

I’ve just published the fourth part of the Learn to read the Bible series on Mark’s Gospel. This week we are looking at Mark 1:21-34, when Jesus drives out an impure spirit and heals many people.

For those who are coming to this new, the idea behind this series is not for me to simply explain everything to you, but rather to give you things to think about yourself. This is about training you to read the Bible for yourself, rather than just giving you all the answers!

You can read the passage online here (although I’d suggest it’s better in a physical Bible). You may also want to have a pen and paper handy to jot down notes and things you want to look into more.

Key Points from Mark 1:21-34

  • What things are repeated in the passages? Look out for repetition – it’s often used for emphasis and something the Bible wants us to pay attention to!
  • Jesus taught with authority – what do you think that says about the way that we should relate to Jesus and his teaching?
  • Jesus had authority over evil spirits. Without going into details about demon possession, do you think that says something about Jesus’ mission? Should that give us confidence about good defeating evil?
  • Jesus grew famous – imagine someone today who could teach and heal like Jesus! What would that look like?
  • Why does Jesus tell the evil spirits not to talk about him? Why doesn’t he want people to know who he is?…

Looking for more?

You can see the rest of the videos in this series on the this page. If you’d like a more focussed series teaching the Christian faith, check out the teaching programme.

You might also want to see the previous episode in the series on Mark 1:14-20.

Taking Communion – Living as a Christian part 5

What is communion and why is it important? In this video we think about communion – how we should take it, how often, and how important it is or isn’t.

This is part 5 of the “How to Live as a Christian” video course. In due course, this will be available as a as a course for you to complete as part of the teaching programme.

The How to Live as a Christian series is designed to help new (and not-so-new) Christians get up to speed about living in the way God wants us to. It’s designed to be practical, so that it’s not just all about the theory. You can check out all the videos so far on the YouTube playlist, or if you prefer you can read the whole series.

A Psalm for weeping and hard times | Psalm 6 Reflection

What do you do when you’re feeling sad? How do we pray when life feels overwhelming? Can we bring our tears to God? This Psalm helps us to pray in these times.

This is part of the weekly Thought for the Week series. This series is designed to give a short, 10-minute ‘thought’, including a Bible reading and a prayer. At the moment I am working my way through the Psalms but I may take a break from them after a while and look at another part of the Bible.

Do subscribe to the mailing list if you want to get these delivered by email, or subscribe directly on YouTube if you want to see them there.

You can see the previous week’s thought on Psalm 5 “How to deal with hostile people” here.

No Sacred-Secular Divide | Psalm 65 Sermon

A sermon on Psalm 65 from one of our Harvest services. In this sermon I look at the idea of the sacred-secular divide. We find from Psalm 65 that there is no such thing – everything is spiritual.

A lot of people have two boxes: a “sacred” box, where they put things like prayer, Bible reading, church, etc. Then they have a “secular” box, where they put everything else – work, school, friends, family, etc. What Psalm 65 helps us to see is that we shouldn’t have such a distinction: everything in life is spiritual.

Read the passage online here.

If you’re looking for more content on the Psalms, check out the Thought for the Week – I have recently started working my way through the Psalms, doing a short (10-minute) reflection, with a prayer, each week.