Friday, 29 April 2011

Some short but vital lessons from Mark (1)

Dear fellow believers, today we are taking a short break from Nehemiah to have another short look at some lovely pictures and lessons from Mark's Gospel. As you know we have been looking at this lovely Gospel this year and I have been enjoying studying this book, so I thought it would be nice to share some observations once again for our mutual blessing.

This is a TWO PART post looking at two incidents in Mark ch 6.

The Feeding of the 5000 (Mk 6:32-44)

[caption id="attachment_130" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The countryside by Galilee"]The countryside by Galilee[/caption]

The Setting for the Miracle:

At the outset to the miracle, it is the disciples that set the scene: "this is a desert place and the time is far passed". This is an observation which is true of our arena of service today also. This world is indeed a desert place, it can sustain no spiritual life on it's own, we must look to the Lord for our spiritual sustenance in a place such as this. The time is also far passed - how often have we commented that we are surely living in last days! The day of grace will soon draw to a close as we look at the state of the world around us, the Lord will not tarry long, so we must 'redeem the time' and seize the opportunity for service while we have it!

Two Sets of Responses:

It is interesting to once again compare the response of the disciples to the response of the Lord Jesus to this situation. In response to the multitudes lingering at the end of a long and busy day they said to the Lord "Send them away" They looked to the Saviour to send these people away! It is interesting therefore to notice the response of the Lord, as he counters this with "Give ye them to eat" He asked them to provide the solution, full knowing that they could not. He was causing them to see the reality, that they needed to look to him not to callously send them away but to supply the solution and meet the need as only he could. How true this is of ourselves sometimes, as we ask the Lord to take a certain situation away from us, yet sometimes the Lord wants us to ask him to help us and meet our need to sustain us through the situation. We can also look at it another way; they were asking the Lord to do something, whereas the Lord turned it back on themselves to do something. This also can be a lesson for us, to learn that sometimes we need to not only just pray and leave it with the Lord but that on certain matters we need to take action as well! For example when we pray that people will come into the gospel meetings, it is often the case that we ourselves never ask or bring people into the hall to hear the gospel! Let us challenge our hearts with this.

The Fragments that Remained:

The scriptures tell us that on this occasion there were 12 baskets of fragments gathered up. In Mark ch 8 we see the feeding of the 4000 where there were 7 baskets of fragments gathered. It is interesting to learn that there are 2 different Greek words used here for 'basket', and in this we see 2 different lessons regarding the wonderful provision of the Lord Jesus Christ for his people.

Mark ch 8: Here the word 'basket' implies a very large, circular/cylindrical shaped basket often made of reeds. These baskets were so large that we read of such an item being used in Acts ch 9 where the Apostle Paul is concealed in one as they lowered him down over the city wall of Damascus. As there are 7 baskets in this account, we can see something of the complete, perfect and abundant provision of the Lord Jesus. All our need can be met by him and found in him!

Mark ch 6: In our account here a different word is used for 'basket' which really means a smaller, hand-basket probably made of wicker which would contain a certain measure of capacity. As there are 12 gathered, this would work out as one for each disciple and this shows me something of the daily provision of the Lord for his people. Surely we should look to him daily to meet all our needs, spiritual or otherwise! Let us challenge ourselves - do we come to him for our daily provision from his Word?

We trust these simple lessons will be of benefit to our hearts.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Monday, 25 April 2011

Nehemiah - the opponents and their methods

Dear fellow believers, a couple of days ago we looked at the 3 ringleaders of the opposition to this great work. Now let us look in closer detail at the tactics they employed as they sought to diminish and destroy the work of God.

1. Mockery (2:19 – 4:1)

"He was furious and very indignant and mocked the Jews"

It's a simple strategy, but it's one that has been used down through the centuries. The world will always mock the people of God, but Nehemiah is not to be deterred from the work by the words of men, no matter how harsh!

2. Intimidation (4:7-8)

"They became very angry. And all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion"

Here we see the different parties collaborating together to produce an allied front against the people of God. Look at the geography and it is easy to see the effect they were trying to achieve - Sanballat brought his people from the north, Geshem the Arabian came from the south, Tobiah is an Ammonite which is to the east, and finally the Ashdodites were from Philistia which is to the west. They quite clearly sought to demonstrate their might by surrounding Jerusalem, in an attempt to strike fear into the hearts of those engaged in the work. The world still does the same, seeking to thwart the work of God by intimidating saints so that we may well think twice before raising our voice in testimony or witness to God.

3. Diversion and Distraction (6:2-4)

4 times over in this portion we read "come let us meet" and this marks a change in tactic. Here they turn to subtlety, they appeal to diplomacy in a non-confrontational way they say "come on, let's talk about this, lets see if we can work together" but Nehemiah will not be distracted from the work and he knows that any involvement with these people will lead to compromise and the failure of the project. We should never be enticed into partnering with the world to accomplish anything spiritual, and sometimes this will be how the devil will seek to sabotage our outreach. It may all seem very appealing but we should remember that God does not need to use the world to help him in his work!

4. Slander and Lies (6:5-9)

"It is reported... according to these rumours..."

Here the enemies carry out a 'smear campaign' in their efforts to thwart the work! Of course everything they said was lies, a complete fabrication but one that could have done much damage nevertheless! Once again they were trying to paralyse the work through fear, the lies they were spreading were malicious and threatening. "for they all made us afraid, saying that their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done". But Nehemiah is not a man to be motivated by fear and in the face of adversity he simply asks the Lord to strengthen their hands!

5. Deception (6:10-13)

"And lo I perceived that God had not sent him..."

Here subtlety was once again at work for they hired a man to be a secret informer and to plant ideas and sow the seeds of doubt from the inside. The man they chose was Shemaiah a Jew and a man who clearly was manipulated by fear as Sanballat was easily able to manipulate him. He spun Nehemiah a story about an assassination plot in an attempt to deceive him into ceasing the work, but Nehemiah replied "should such a man as I flee?" and you can almost detect the indignation in his voice! Here was a man with godly wisdom and perception to see the ploys of the enemy and with the courage to withstand and continue in the work of the Lord.

Oh that we might learn from this great man Nehemiah, a man who triumphed through adversity in difficult days! We too can accomplish a work for God despite the opposition we may face along the way. The enemies are the same and they haven't changed their strategies, but Nehemiah proves that victory and success are still possible if we are strong and trust in God.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Nehemiah - the villains of the piece

The title refers to those three villains of the piece, the opponents and enemies of the work for God in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. In the largely positive book of Nehemiah it should come as no surprise to learn that there is a lot of opposition to the work. In turn there is much that we can learn from the behaviour and strategies employed by the enemies of this work, as their methods haven't fundamentally changed! But first let's look at the three main ringleaders first of all.

Sanballat the Horonite - Factfile:

  • He was installed as the Governor of Samaria under Persian rule, Samaria being in the north of the country

  • He emerges as the prominent ringleader and spokesperson of the three

  • He is a Moabite (from Horonaim in the land of Moab) and this says a lot! Moab of course came from Lot's incestuous union with his oldest daughter and in the scripture speaks of the flesh. The children of Israel never fully dealt with Moab, they never fully subdued or defeated them. The same is true of the believer and the flesh, we will never be truly free of the trappings of the flesh until we get to heaven!

Geshem the Arabian - Factfile:

  • Arabia was the land south of Palestine

  • The Arabians were descendants of Abraham, either from the wife of his old age Keturah or more likely from Hagar, Sarah's bond servant (Ishmael was the son born of this relationship).

  • God promised Hagar that from Ishmael would also come a mighty nation, innumerable as the sand.

Tobiah the Ammonite - Factfile:

  • His name ironically means "the goodness of Jehovah" but names can be deceiving!

  • He was an Ammonite, a descendant of Ammon who was the product of Lot's other incestuous relationship with his younger daughter. Again this is another bad sign, and would again speak to us of the flesh.

  • Later on in the book it would appear that he befriended Eliashib the High Priest, so much so that he had a room prepared for him in the courts of the temple. This is a solemn reminder how easy it is to harbour a fondness and a place for the flesh in our lives.

One thing we learn is that all 3 of these men were the result of failure among those who should have known better, and those failures were to return to plague the children of Israel time and time again. Sometimes this is the case that mistakes in the past continue to plague our spiritual progress in the present and this is unfortunate. But however, we don't give up and stop fighting!

These 3 rogues employ 5 main strategies as they seek to disrupt and destroy the work:

  1. Mockery (2:19 - 4:1)

  2. Intimidation (4:7-8)

  3. Diversion and Distraction (6:2-4)

  4. Slander and Lies (6:5-9)

  5. Deception (6:10-13)

We will look at these in more detail another day.

Yours in Christ,



Friday, 15 April 2011

Nehemiah - A brief introduction

Dear fellow believer, I have been meaning to post a few articles now regarding the book of Nehemiah but as you can probably tell from the infrequency of posts, I have been very busy recently and just haven't had the time to write them up! I am committed however to bringing before you a number of short articles in relation to this wonderful book as it is so positive, practical and pertinent for today! It has been most beneficial to me personally and I would like to think that fellow believers would also find profit from studying this book. So let's have a brief overview by way of introduction (you may wish to do a scan-read of Nehemiah!)

The book is divided into 2 sections:

  1. ch 1-6 - Rebuilding the Wall (physical repair)

  2. ch 7-13 - Rebuilding the People (spiritual repair)

  • The book covers the period 445-415BC. This places the book right at the end of the OT, so don't be fooled by it's placement before Job and Psalms! In reality it is one of the final writings of the OT history along with the prophecy of Malachi.

  • It records the events of the 3rd return of the people of God from exile in Persia, this time under Nehemiah. The 1st return was under Zerubbabel, the 2nd was under Ezra, then 12 years later come the events of Nehemiah.

We may ask - Why were the people in captivity? This was because they had disobeyed God in respect to the 7th year. Every 7th year should have been God's, with the land lying fallow and having rest, but they had disregarded this command for 490 years! They therefore owed God 70 years hence they were in captivity for 70 years.

A bit of info/background about the man Nehemiah:

  • His name means "the comfort of Jehovah" ('Nehem-Yah')

  • He was born of Jewish parents in exile (he had never even seen Jerusalem yet it was so close to his heart)

  • He clearly had a godly home and upbringing (how privileged to have parents who love the Lord!)

  • God prospered him - he was given responsibility from a young age (he was cup-bearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes, probably the most powerful man on the planet at that time!)

  • He was a formidable man of God: clearly filled with the Spirit, he had an ear for God's voice, and prayer was a natural and essential part of his life

  • He knew what work was, and he knew how to inspire others to work with him

  • He is strong in the face of opposition and when the odds are stacked against him - he shows wisdom and determination

His example of leadership is inspiring:

  • He has a spiritual burden/exercise, which he commits to prayer

  • He examines the problem and performs a 'needs assessment'

  • He decides on a course of action

  • He motivates/inspires others to share the vision and involves them

  • He delegates authority and tasks

  • He supervises and oversees the work until it is complete

The book of Nehemiah is really a positive account of revival and restoration among the people of God. It charts a work for God from a burden on one man's heart, through to activity and realisation of the work, through to the overcoming of difficulties and the eventual completion and success of that work and the blessing it brings to the people and to God! But the important thing to remember is that it all started with a man with an exercise.

We challenge ourselves today - are we believers with a burden or an exercise to do things for God? We trust that as we look as this wonderful little book together that we will learn much about doing a work for God.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Man versus God

As the title suggests, it is interesting to compare the reaction of men and the solution they offer to a situation, to the solution offered by the Lord Jesus Christ. In Mark chapter 5 we have 3 examples of this brought before us and it has been a lovely study for me and I hope you find it beneficial too!

1. The man of the Gadarenes (v1-20)

The first character that we meet in this chapter is the man of Gadara who was possessed by the demon Legion, "for we are many". Just look at the response of men to this man's problem: they had ostracised him and separated him from society, banishing him to the catacombs and graveyards (places of death) of the region. As far as they were concerned his life was indeed over and this was the best place for him where he couldn't bother them. Notice that they bound him with chains and fetters, they offered him nothing but bondage and frustration! Then we see the Lord Jesus come in and he commands the evil spirits to come out of him and they do so, obeying the authoritative voice of the Son of God. Observe the transformation in this man's life, he gained 3 things he had not had in his previous life - he is found sitting (at rest and at peace), clothed (dignity and self respect) and in his right mind (self control, his mind was his own).

[caption id="attachment_118" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A view of the hill country of Gadara, note the slopes towards the Sea of Galilee"]A view of Gadara, east of Galilee[/caption]

What a complete change from the wild, uncontrollable man that was before! I like the parting touch of the Saviour; "go home to thy friends" I find it lovely that the Saviour knew that this man once had a life and had friends, but they had long left the scene, for this man had led such a lonely and solitary existence. His mission now however was to return to his friends and tell them all about the one who had turned his life around! Just like this man, we too have been liberated from the power and bondage of sin, taken from the place of death and given new life, new appetites and desires. Again like this man our mission field should start with our own friends and family - do they know what great things the Lord has done for us?

2. The woman with the issue of blood (v24 - 34)

The chapter moves on quickly, for this is the gospel of activity and action! We are soon introduced to a woman who has suffered with an ailment for 12 whole years. The scriptures tell us that she had "suffered many things" at the hands of many and various doctors. One can only imagine the horrendous remedies and treatments they had subjected her to, medicine back then not being what it is today! Just look at what they had taken from her, they had taken every last penny from her, and what was the return on her investment? Absolutely nothing, she was no better off than when they had started. But what a lovely comparison we have as we look at the effect that the Saviour had upon her life - a complete and perfect cure! "straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up" Nevermore would she be plagued by her ailment, the Lord confirm it to her in person. So we ask ourselves the question - what was her investment in the Lord Jesus? What was the cost to her? A simple touch of the hem of his garment! This is all the Saviour requires to transform and bless lives today, for us to reach out in faith and he will do the rest. As believers we can apply this principle to ourselves - we can invest all our time and resources into the systems of the world and we will come out of it with nothing (at least spiritually), just like this woman! Men will take and take for as long as we are willing to give whereas with Christ the opposite is true with spiritual things - he will give and give more as long as we are willing to receive in terms of spiritual wisdom and development. We can see this principle in the previous chapter: "...with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given...

3. Jairus' daughter (v35-43)

Here we have a final example of the stark difference in the response of man to the glorious response of the Lord Jesus to a certain situation. We see that a tragedy had occurred - the little girl had died and all was lost, or so the people thought! Look at their lack of faith as they break the news to Jairus: "Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?" As far as they were concerned all hope was lost, a thought further reinforced by the scene that met them at the house - the place had been invaded by mourners, wailing dramatically and bemoaning the death of the little one. How negative and unhelpful! All they could offer was misery and despair. They had no faith that there was one in their midst who was the Resurrection and the Life, the one who upholds all things by the word of his power! They further miscalculated the person of the Lord Jesus in their mocking when he said "she sleepeth" - to him raising this little girl from the dead was just like awakening her from sleep! When the world thinks our situation is lost, when they pour scorn on our beliefs and our Lord and Saviour we should remember that all things are simple and possible with God!

We can apply this to the future for the believer - even if we pass through physical death. Here is a situation that the world would could hopeless, they would say that this is the end of the story, the final destination is the grave! But praise the Lord that death is not the end for the believer, our soul is received into heaven and the Lord will one day raise the body as well! And what will be the energising catalyst for this great resurrection? The same as it was 2000 years ago - his voice!

"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout... and the dead in Christ shall rise first"

Yours in Christ,



1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

I was listening to a podcast the other day which was speaking about 1 Kings 19 and it reminded me of how very relevant this passage is to ou...