Together Series – Truthfulness and Inclusion

Readings for this week May 9 – 13
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1  – Knowing the Truth

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 14:1-14
Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Something about Jesus is intrinsically and inescapably linked to truth. The Jewish people saw themselves as God’s chosen people, called by God and holy. Throughout the Old Testament scriptures, the Law, prophets, Psalms and wisdom writings, there is a heart cry to know God. And yet they also carried the belief that God was beyond knowing, beyond understanding at a personal level. A good orthodox Jew would not even speak the name of Yahweh. Jesus comes among these chosen people and declares that God can be known; that Truth with a capital ‘T’ can be discovered, and that it is in Jesus himself that God can be really known.

When we think about truthfullness as a characteristic of those who follow Jesus, it is much more than merely the notion of being honest, not telling lies. It is also about telling truth, speaking reality. As we grow in knowing God, so we can develop in speaking truth, both to ourselves, our families, and into situations that need the freedom and power that real truth brings.

When Jesus spoke about being the way , the truth and the life, he was speaking of a way that he modeled for all of us. He enjoyed perfect union with his Father, and he acts as a forerunner, or pattern, bringing together the human and the divine; fully human, fully divine. This is our journey also; allowing God to bring together our humanness with his divine presence. While this is a mystery, it is God’s desire. Jesus talked about being in the Father and the Father being in him. He wants and prays the same close relationship for us. So the beginning of truthfulness in our lives is to know the one who is the Truth.

Questions to Consider
How would you describe knowing God in comparison to knowing about God?

Have you ever thought of ‘Truth’ as a person rather than as doctrines or laws?

In what ways are Jesus’ journey of obedience, suffering, death and resurrection also my journey as ‘the way’ to the Father?

Prayer
Father God, teach me to know you as the ultimate ‘Truth’. Help me be open to your working in my life as you were in your Son Jesus, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Telling Ourselves the Truth

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 139: 1-18
One of the most difficult aspects of truthfulness is our own self talk. Whether we realise it or not we assimilate numerous messages from other people that tell us who we are, what we can do and whether we are loved and significant. Messages such as “you’ve got your grandpa’s short temper” or “you’re not smart enough to do…” or “if only you could behave like your sister” shape our own self image – whether or not they are true. Replaying these messages can become second nature until they start to dictate how we think and speak of ourselves. The truth telling that we all so desperately need is the truth of what God says about us. He is not oblivious of our faults and failures, but he speaks the truth of who he has created us to be, what he has gifted and empowers us to do, and most importantly how loved we are by him.

This is one of the major reasons why taking time to read the Bible is so important. It is easy to approach the Bible as just a guide for what to do and what to avoid. Really its fundamental purpose is to speak truth about who God is and who we are in relation to him. The Psalmist says, “You created my inmost being…I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” As it has been said, God doesn’t make junk! Why then do we allow messages to pervade our thinking that tell us we are no good, useless, and unlovable?

This week start to pay attention to what you say about yourself. Look for scriptures that reveal what God thinks and feels about you – and choose to focus on the truth!

Try These
Isaiah 43:1-4, 1 Cor 6:19, 2 Cor 5:17, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 4:13, 1 Peter 2:9

Prayer
Loving God, forgive me for allowing negative messages to impact how I think about myself. Guide me to what you have to say about me in the Bible. Holy Spirit, prompt me when my own self talk is contrary to your truth, and help me replace any lies I have believed with your reality, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 59:1-4, 14-17
This is a fairly sobering passage to read. In case we begin to think that truth doesn’t matter too much – think again! God is not happy when “No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity” in other words, with truth. In Isaiah’s time he pictures truth stumbling in the streets. None of us have to look too hard to see situations where truth stumbles in our streets also. Isaiah says that God was not only displeased because of injustice; he says God was appalled that there was no one to intervene. Clearly when truth ‘stumbles’ there is an expectation that God’s people will be ready to stand up and put things right.

Perhaps it is as we come to know Jesus as the Truth, and can hear God speak messages of truth to us about who we really are, that we can become people willing to speak truth into our hurting society. Truth telling can be costly; perhaps we will face criticism, loss of friends, loss of promotion etc. But that is not as costly as allowing injustice and evil to run unchecked.

Even within our own faith communities we may shy away from speaking truth because we fear confrontation. Alternatively we may resist opening up and being truthful about our own temptations and frailties because we fear rejection, or think it will undermine our witness to others. But communities, and the trust that needs to be their bedrock, can be rotted away from within by platitudes and half truths. People who love truth will build others up with it rather than using it to tear them down.

Questions to Consider
How can we take small steps in truth telling within our small groups or neighbourhood communities that will strengthen our ability to speak truth in harder situations?

Prayer
Father God, please show me the areas where I am tempted to compromise and blur the edges in my truth telling. Open my eyes to where injustice must be confronted with truth. Give me your grace to always speak the truth with love, endeavouring to bring ultimate good to any situation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – All Means All

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 3:26-28
We struggle to comprehend what a huge statement Paul was making in this letter to the Galatians. In his world people assessed their good standing with God by keeping laws, who they associated with, how much better they were than others, and who they excluded. These prescribed ‘boundary markers’ decided who was in and who was out. Then Paul comes along, following in the path of Jesus, and said in effect, “The boundary markers don’t matter anymore, in fact there are no boundaries! God’s grace and mercy is available to everyone. And they don’t even have to jump through any hoops first.”

The early church took quite a while to really unpack what to us looks like a simple statement about inclusion. And in places Paul may seem to be defending the status quo within society rather than calling for a total egalitarian stance (issues over slaves etc). But this is what we would call a trajectory of grace. In other words, Paul is speaking an ultimate, eternal truth; the pinnacle of what should be. But it will take some working out. Nevertheless this is what we should be striving for. Gentiles rubbing shoulders with devout Jews could not have been easy; likewise slaves mixing with masters, or women with men.

What might be the challenges for us? Welcoming people from more formal religious traditions? People from Muslim belief systems? People in gay relationships? People with bare feet, long hair, and paisley clothing? People whose clothing smells? People who are awkward or too loud? It doesn’t really matter the issue, it’s going to be messy and hard and uncomfortable. God isn’t too concerned about our comfort however; he’s more concerned with our commitment to being inclusive, just as he included us.

Question to Consider
Try to identify points at which you have trouble being inclusive. What are your fears or objections? Spent some time talking to God about these.

Prayer
Father, I am grateful that you welcomed me into your family without prejudice or condition. Help me create a place of welcome for others and an environment where differences can be explored, understood and celebrated, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – Wells and Fences

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 55:1-9
This is a beautiful passage that speaks of an open invitation, “Come, all you who are thirsty…come…without cost.” The picture is of eating and drinking, the picture of a banquet that runs right through the Bible. It is such a common picture of hospitality and welcome and fellowship. Eating together symbolised peace, and in some parts of the world deals and pledges of trust are still expressed through sharing food together.

Yesterday we mentioned religious systems that are defined by boundary markers. That is, rules and behaviours that act like fences which show who is in and who is out. Adherence to staying within the rules, or fences, can give people a sense of security. Unfortunately, it can also define who we are by who is ‘outside’. This was not a model Jesus endorsed. A different way of defining who we are is instead of being a bounded set (using boundaries) we see ourselves as a centred set. This means our relationship is not to rules but to a centre point, which in our case, is Jesus himself. It’s like cattle that don’t need fences because they know not to stray too far from their water source; and Jesus used the image of a well in relation to himself. As long as someone is moving ever closer towards the centre, towards Jesus, it matters little whether they are close in or quite far away – they are moving in relation to the person who is the centre, Jesus. By contrast, someone can be in a rule bounded set but be stagnant, just inside the boundary but going nowhere, just fiercely guarding the parameter trying to feel safe by keeping others out. God’s invitation, “Come” seems to lean towards a centred set way of thinking where anyone and everyone are welcome to journey closer to him.

Questions to Consider
Why do we rely on fences? What damage do they do?

Why can a centred ‘well’ model make us feel uneasy?

Prayer
Father God, help me cling more tightly to you than to religious fences that can keep people from finding you. Please help us build a faith community with a strong foundation but very porous walls. Give us grace to welcome all those you care about and love, just as Jesus did, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)