First Training Session

On Friday we had our first session.  We left the DSC_0145busyness of Jakarta, to go to a retreat centre, called Wisma Binawarga.  This conference centre, owned by the church, is a humble location for our training workshop.  There is no air conditioning; sweat beads down my back.  Our hosts are concerned about the short beds, seemingly inadequate for someone as tall as Homer. (It was fine.)

The training workshop is for 12 people who hope to become trainers for Global Coffee Break in Indonesia.  We began with worship – one guitar, and a dozen people singing in Indonesian; songs with words I cannot understand.  And yet I feel a kinship with these people as they lift up the name of Yesus.

A few of the participants speak English well; mostDSC_0134 know enough to respond to simple questions.  My hand gestures are bigger than usual.  I speak in simpler terms.  I smile, and invite their response with my eyes.  I’m learning to work with my interpreter (and our host), Untung. Sometimes he speaks much longer than I do, probably clarifying something that I took for granted.  At other times, he motions for me to continue without translation.  It seems that some of my concepts are clear.  🙂

The leaders are varied.  A professional gentleman, who works for a Canadian company, is proud to share that he’s been to Calgary.  He speaks perfect English, and wonders how he can share Christ with Muslim neighbours.  One of the women is a mother of 2 who works in insurance, and is very involved in her church.  A couple of pastors wrestle to know how to engage people in Bible discovery, when parishioners would rather have the pastor to do all the teaching.

A woman named Melanie, who worked for a Christian organization, was eager to show me the books that she had written, for Bible study for youth, in Bahasi Indonesian.  I was struck by the fact that there is so little available in their own language, while my bookshelves are overflowing with Christian literature waiting to be read.

DSC_0143I am struck by the humble gratitude of these people.  During our meals and breaks they are eager for me to try their food.  They are very concerned that Homer is well cared for.  Each one came to thank me for coming. I was blessed by having been with these people.

The drive back to Jakarta had us weaving DSC_0154through the traffic, on streets lined with street venders. Horns blow freely, motorcycles zip in and out through jammed traffic.  We are thankful for Untung our faithful host, guide and very competent driver.

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Travel to Indonesia

I’ve been asked to travel to Indonesia, to lead some workshops, and do some teaching about Coffee Break small groups.  I was humbled to be asked and eager to go… a few months ago.

I was surprised at my anxiety as the departure date approached.  What was I thinking when I said yes to this?  What can I possibly bring to a culture that doesn’t understand me?  I can’t understand them.  I will lose all my charisma, working through a translator.  What could a Canadian woman of Dutch heritage no less, possibly bring to Indonesia?

I am thankful that Homer comes with me – my best friend, my greatest support, my ‘Aaron’ (to reference the story of Moses.) But even he was becoming anxious!

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Leaving our children and our only grandchild, to go as far away as we could, made me anxious…

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Anticipating the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong (pictured here) made us anxious…

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Looking ahead to meeting our hosts, (who’ve asked us to come) made me anxious…

Thinking about working with a translator made me anxious…

We’ll eat different food, face different customs, and deal with jet lag, upset stomachs and other things. We’re told not to drink the water, and not to use our left hand.  We’re told to dress more formally.  We know that we‘ll stand out – we’re tall, and blond and look very Dutch to these olive skinned, small framed people.

I have always identified with the story of Moses in Exodus 33.  He comes before God, saying “You’ve called me to lead these people” – and now I need Your presence to go with me.   I have always believed that as a leader in any capacity, I need God’s presence.  I felt that need so much more, as I anticipated the trip to Indonesia.  And, I need to trust God for so many things that I cannot control – things that I could not even anticipate.

I have had other times, in my journey where I have questioned my adequacy… where I have wrestled with “Who am I to be standing in this place, to be leading these people?”  At times I have felt so inadequate.  In this case, as travel to Indonesia came near, I felt increasingly inadequate.

Perhaps that’s exactly where God wants us to be, to come to a place of realizing that we really bring nothing at all.  There is nothing that I can do or say in my own strength.  All that I have comes from Him; all that I bring is from Him.

Like Moses, I lay this opportunity before the Lord, and trust Him to bring His glory and do a work that I cannot do.  I pray for God’s wisdom, for His presence to be real, and for His Holy Spirit to come upon us with power.DSC_0112

We arrived on Thursday, and were so warmly welcomed by our hosts.  We emailed our kids, had a good sleep, ate a good meal.

The traffic is crazy, the weather is hot, the language is indistinguishable.

We trust God for what He will do.  🙂

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Mark 16: The Resurrection

Very early, the day after the Sabbath, the women come to anoint Jesus’ body.  It’s broad daylight.  They find the stone is rolled away.  The tomb is empty except for an angel, who tells them Jesus has risen. They’re trembling and afraid and they don’t tell anyone.

The rest of the chapter is thought to have been an addition to the gospel; it’s very likely to have been written by the early church to replace a lost segment.

We read that Mary went to tell others, who did not believe her. Jesus appeared to two of the disciples; others did not believe their report either.  Jesus appeared to the eleven while they were eating and He rebuked their lack of faith.

He challenges his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news, so that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.  Jesus ascends into heaven, and the disciples are obedient to His words.

We have the privilege of being his disciples as well, to continue to bring the good news to all the world.

Mark 15:  The Crucifixion

As Jesus is brought to Pilate, He again remains silent, except to admit to being King of the Jews.  The crowd has been stirred up by the chief priests, and they call out for Barabbas to be released.  Pilate knew that Jesus had been handed over out of envy of the Chief Priests, but He was more eager to please the crowd.  How often am I more eager to please the crowd?

Jesus is flogged and handed over to be crucified.  They give him a purple robe, a crown of thorns; they mock Him calling out to the “King of the Jews”.  Simon of Cyrene is asked to carry His cross; they make the journey to Golgotha.

The third hour – Jesus is crucified. He is offered wine vinegar. They divide his clothes. He’s placed between thieves. The mocking continues.

Then three hours of darkness – the sun stopped shining (at mid-day), and by the ninth hour – Jesus gives up His spirit and breathes His last.  With a loud cry, He willingly gave up His life.  (A crucified body can hang on a cross for a couple of days; legs are often broken to speed up the process, but not so with Jesus.  He willingly gave up His life.)

The curtain of the temple was torn… Jesus enters heaven and we may now enter God’s presence.

The word torn is the same word that was used at the beginning of Mark.  When Jesus was baptised, heaven was torn open, and the Spirit descended.  In both cases Jesus is declared the Son of God:  in the beginning by God His Father, here by the confession of the centurion who said “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council, boldly asks to bury the body of Jesus.

The women, who remained until the end, watch where Jesus is laid.  They are less bold.

The disciples seem absent – with no boldness at all.

Mark 14:  The Last Supper, and the Arrest

It’s now almost time for the Passover, and Jesus is in Bethany reclining with friends.  A woman comes and pours perfume on Jesus’ head.  She broke the jar; her giving is total and irrevocable. Those present were indignant at the waste; yet Jesus honours her.  The poor you will always have with you, Jesus says.

Then Judas goes off to begin his journey of betrayal… all twelve will eventually deny him.

Preparations begin for the last supper.  Jesus foreknew all the details; He invites His disciples to be involved in the preparations.

What an intimate and sacred meal to be shared with friends; dipping the bread, sharing the cup, demonstrating the gift of His body.  A table of grace not merit; offered to all, even those who would betray and deny him.  Peter is certain he won’t… and yet we know the story of the rooster…

After the Passover, Jesus and his disciples go to Gethsemane.  Jesus goes off to pray by himself, and three times his disciples fall asleep… reminiscent of Peter’s denial yet to come.  How many times have I fallen asleep in the midst of my prayers?

And then it happens – Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss – and everyone deserts Him.

As Jesus comes before the Sanhedrin, He remains silent in the face of false accusations.  He only speaks to admit that He is the Christ.  Deemed to be blasphemy, Jesus is condemned to death.

And Peter denies him… three times… and the rooster crows.

The rooster… awakening Peter to what he had done.  In our group we wondered if there are times that we need a rooster crowing experience, to awaken to our sin.

Mark 13:  Signs of the End

In this chapter, Jesus talks of signs of the end times.  We noted that phrases like “birth pains” and “in those days” were common Old Testament phrases to point to the Messianic age, to the coming of the Messiah, and now, here, to His coming again.

Judging by the text, it was very important to Jesus to warn His disciples to be ready, and not be deceived.  We are encouraged by the words of Jesus that say the Holy Spirit will give the words that are needed in times of persecution, and he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  The signs of the end reveal that heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus states that His words will never pass away.  None of us, not even Jesus knows when the end will come… but we are cautioned to be ready at all times.

Mark 12: The Greatest Commandment

In this chapter Jesus is ramping up his challenge to the religious elite.  He tells a parable about the vineyard owner with bad tenants, and quotes from scripture:  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. 

The religious leaders realize that He spoke against them.  They are working pretty hard to trip up Jesus, with questions about taxes and marriage in heaven.  The crowd is still very much in support of Jesus.

The leaders flatter Jesus, speaking of His wisdom, and among other things, they ask about the greatest commandment.  Jesus responds with reciting the Shema from Deut. 6, and adds the command to love your neighbour as yourself.  What follows is the testimony of the religious teacher, who recognizes that this is indeed the greatest commandment, greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  Jesus tells him that he is not far from the kingdom.  This is one of the few times in scripture where Jesus acknowledges someone’s faith and understanding.

As the chapter continues, we see the crowd enjoying the teaching of Jesus.  He cautions them to watch out for the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law who devour widow’s houses.  In contrast he exalts a widow’s offering, as she gives all that she has.

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Mark 11: The Triumphal Entry – A King with Authority

The Triumphal Entry is a familiar passage even for children.  Yet, it’s quite surprising to consider Jesus full control spelled out to the last detail.  He directs his disciples to fetch him a colt, knows where it will be and even warns of someone who will question their activity.  Jesus requests their involvement, and they find things, just as He said.

They spread their cloaks… others did too… for some, their only possession?  The people sang Hosanna, quoting from Psalm 118, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  They were expecting an earthly Messiah; they celebrated His apparent arrival.

We noted that Jesus entered the temple, looked around, but then left; He went to Bethany.  Although the text makes no mention of His mood, we wondered if He was pained by what He saw… if He was brooding that evening.

The next day, Jesus curses a fruitless fig tree, on His way to Jerusalem.  Upon arrival at the temple, Jesus clears the place, overturning tables of the money changers.  He quotes from Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  Religious leaders want Him dead; the crowd continues to be amazed.  Hate and admiration – opposites coming to a climax.

Again, he leaves the city at night.

Perhaps it was too dangerous to stay in Jerusalem.

Perhaps there was no room for Him to sleep in the city.

Both remind us of His birth.

By morning, the fig tree has withered…  Was Jesus just waiting for the disciples to notice?  He takes the opportunity to teach them about the need for faith as we pray, and adds that our unforgiveness hinders our prayers.

Jesus is approaching his death, yet twice in this passage He talks about prayer.

As Jesus is walking in the temple, the religious leaders question His authority. Jesus returns with a question, regarding John’s authority to baptize.  They offer no response; did they understand that both John and Jesus came with the authority of God?

The entrance of a King, with the authority of God… inviting us to pray with faith.

Jesus, be the King of my heart today!

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Mark 10: Giving it up for the Kingdom

The gospel writer begins by telling us that, “as was His custom”, Jesus is teaching the people.  As was their custom, the Pharisees want to trip him up with a question, this time about divorce.  Jesus brings us back to creation and to God’s perfect plan for marriage:  man and wife, leaving and cleaving, becoming one, not to be severed.  Jesus teaches that because of hardness of heart Moses permitted divorce.  However, God’s perfect plan was that we would never experience the pain and brokenness of divorce.  Although Jewish law considered a man the head of the marriage, Jesus points out that God is the head; “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

In the next story, we see people bringing their children to Jesus, but the disciples ‘rebuked’ them (pretty harsh, I think). In response, Jesus was indignant (equally strong in his sentiment).  His attention to children was probably very different from the norm in this ancient culture.

He welcomes the children… He puts His hands on them… He blesses them!

And He challenges the crowd…
Do not hinder them…
Receive the kingdom of God like a child.
Like a child… with nothing to bring… only to receive…
Neediness, not merit, is what’s needed.

In contrast we see the rich young man who has everything he could want, and who asks about eternal life.  We were struck by Jesus love for this man, recognizing his sincerity.

Jesus seems to declare that the keeping of the law is not what brings eternal life.   Jesus invites the man to follow Him – offering Himself as a substitute for all of the man’s possessions.   Twice Jesus claims that it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom… is he speaking to us, to our culture, in these times?

Even the disciples are baffled, “Who then can be saved?” They recognize their own inadequacy; perhaps we need to come to a place of realizing our own inadequacy.  Jesus responds that “with God, all things are possible”.  He promises blessing and suffering…  and eternal life.

Jesus predicts his death once again, and His disciples ask for preferential seating in the kingdom.  Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach them about being a servant.

And finally, we read the story of Bartimaeus, a persistent blind man who ironically recognizes Jesus as the Messiah (calling him the Son of David).  He throws aside his cloak, likely his only possession, and comes to Jesus.  Jesus gives him dignity by asking what he wants Jesus to do. (It’s interesting to note that James and John had just asked Jesus to do something, but they got quite a different response.)

The blind man, who already knows who Jesus is, asks to see, and Jesus says, “Your faith has healed you”.  Immediately he becomes a disciple, and follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.

Eternal life in the Kingdom… like children, we bring nothing.  And yet, what we have may be standing in the way of our fully receiving Jesus.  Can we, like the blind man, throw aside our ‘cloak’ and come to Jesus?  Can you hear Him say, “Your faith has healed you.”?

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Mark 9: Help my Unbelief

We begin this chapter, with the transfiguration of Jesus, rich with Old Testament references, particularly the story of Moses meeting with God, on the mountain in Exodus 33.    Peter’s suggestion of 3 shelters, reminiscent of the Feast of Tabernacles, seemed also to point to the concept of meeting with God.  A cloud appeared. (Remember the cloud that led the Israelites through the dessert?)  Out of this cloud, God spoke, reminding us of the baptism of Jesus, where  the voice of God confirms His love for His Son.  This time, an instruction is given:  “Listen to Him”… listen to the words that Jesus is to speak.  Jesus, like a prophet, will speak more of his coming suffering and death.

We reflect on another story of healing – this time of a boy with what seems to be epilepsy, caused by an evil spirit.  The disciples had been unable to cast out the demon; Jesus points to their lack of faith by saying that “Everything is possible for him who believes.”  The boy’s father responds with a prayer that we all might relate to:  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

We see Jesus continuing to mentor and teach his disciples.  He again predicts his death.  He addresses their desire to be great in the kingdom.  He welcomes a little child and warns against leading others into sin.  He speaks of hell.  His teaching is challenging for his disciples – they wrestle to understand.

Jesus concludes with the challenge to be salty and at peace with each other.  We feel the shift, from the miracles and teaching of the beginning of the gospel, to the mentoring and discipleship of Jesus teaching.  The intensity continues, on this road to Jerusalem.

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Mark 8 ~ Who do you say that I am?

Here, in the middle of the book of Mark, we find a pivotal chapter.  Up until now Jesus ministry has been about healing and speaking to the multitudes.  His focus could be framed as ‘evangelism’ as He invites people to come to know Him.  Following the confession of Peter, the focus shifts to discipleship, as Jesus devotes more time to teaching His group of followers about what it really means to be His disciple.

We begin with another story of Jesus feeding the multitude.  We are struck by His compassion.  We note that the people eat and are satisfied.  They were listening to His teaching for three days… they had been filled in more ways than one!  Then the Pharisees ask for a sign (admittedly this is a different location).  It’s curious that with all that Jesus has done, they still need a sign – they demonstrate their unbelief.

Jesus cautions his disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees, referring to this unbelief.  He questions them as He summarizes the two stories of feeding multitudes, “Do you have eyes, but fail to see…?”

Jesus heals a blind man… He asks him “Do you see anything?”  This is the only place where a miracle happens in two stages, but when it’s complete, the text emphatically states it three times…

His eyes were opened,
His sight was restored,
H saw everything clearly….  Lord open my eyes so that I may see.

Then the story moves to Caesarea Philippi, a pagan territory – Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say that I am.”   Peter answers correctly, “You are the Christ.”  Peter has in mind a victorious rise to power for this Messiah; Jesus launches into teaching about his death that is to come.  He begins to explain that following Him is giving up your life, denying self, taking up your cross, and following Jesus.

This chapter left me thinking “Who do you say that I am?”  I found myself wondering if I really believe that He is who He says He is.  Do I live it out, point to Him, listen to Him, cooperate with Him?  In the stuff I my life, who do I say that He is?

Lord Jesus, open our eyes so that we may see.  Open our ears so that we may hear.

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