Local Missions Week 2

Readings for this week August 1 – 5
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1  – The Power of Words

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 10: 14-17

You have no doubt heard the expression, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” Commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi, there is actually no written record of this saying originating with him. In the popular mind Francis is associated with a life of simplicity and self imposed poverty, kindness to animals, and love of creation. But alongside all this Francis was known as a preacher, taking every opportunity, travelling the countryside preaching to high and low born alike. With creativity, merriment and strong censure he proclaimed the gospel to all who would listen.

Of course, those who like to quote this saying are trying to stress that our life style needs to live up to our words and that people watch as well, if not better, than they listen. But perhaps there is a subtle hope that we might get away without having to explain what we believe at all, and that somehow our friends and neighbours will somehow “catch” the gospel just by observation. In a postmodern world there can be a suspicion that words are empty of meaning. The gospel is, however, a message; it is the good news of Jesus. “The Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.”

Now Paul certainly expected people to live what they believed, but he continued the line of prophets, and Jesus himself, who powerfully spoke the truth in their day. “ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

Questions to Consider
Do we struggle for the right words to share our faith? Can we tell the story well?

Prayer
Lord God, help me to grasp well the story of your plan for this world and your love for each and every person. Help me develop confidence to speak for you knowing that your Holy Spirit will enable me as I trust in you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Trust the Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 1

As we seek to engage with people in our local community we need to be ready and confident in telling the story of God and his people. The Bible is often seen as a book full of dos and don’ts, but it is a truer reflection to present the Bible as a grand story; the narrative that stretches from the God who began it all to the God who will complete what he started…(and everything in between!)

An intriguing perspective on telling the story comes from Rob Bell. “Where and how you begin and where and how you end the story, shape and determine what story you’re telling.” So let’s have a look at some of the elements in telling the gospel story well.

Genesis 1 tells us that God existed before anything else came into existence. In loving and free exuberance he created a world where physicality and spirit came together and God and human beings enjoyed each other’s company. There was no thought of needing to escape to another/better/more spiritual place. God’s creation was characterised by “Shalom” – a Hebrew word often translated as peace, but meaning a whole lot more. Shalom speaks of fullness, completeness harmony and flourishing. Before anything went wrong, there was a “good” world where relationships were fulfilling and work was satisfying. Physical existence was not a barrier to knowing God; in fact barriers of any kind do not appear to have been part of the picture. This is the beginning of the story.

Questions to Consider
How do you think God feels about his world? Some clues are in Job 38-41

What appeals to you about the concept of Shalom? What would you have most enjoyed in this original creation?

Why do people sometimes feel a physical world/existence is something to be escaped or superseded? What are the negative effects of this thinking?

Prayer
Loving God, Creator of beauty and purpose, teach me to see your world through your eyes, your original blessing on all you have made. May my heart long to know your ‘Shalom’ in myself, my home and my neighbourhood, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – That’s a Wrap

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 21:1-5

At the other end of our story is the beautiful vision given to the Apostle John of God coming to dwell with his people. It is a cosmic picture with the recreation of heaven and earth, but also a very tender and personal picture as the sorrows of this world pass away and God wipes away each and every tear.

There’s two very important aspects to this last chapter of the great story of God:

1. It isn’t just about me! Yes, an individual relationship with God, and being reconciled and adopted into his family is vital. Because of this we can view the end of time and the final coming of God’s kingdom as a kind of homecoming. But beyond this wonderful reality is the fact that God is in the business of reconciling his whole creation. God wants his world back. It has been “in bondage” as Paul puts it in Romans 8, waiting and longing for renewal. There is not one corner of creation that is overlooked in God’s reclaiming and restoring process

2. Just as in the beginning of the story, physicality and spirit come together. There is no need to seek an escape to a better realm, for God comes to dwell with us in a renewed creation. There will be the destruction and removal of all that is outside God’s plan and will, but the good creation he always intended will be fully restored. “Earth and heaven are made to overlap with one another, not fitfully, mysteriously and partially as they do at the moment, but completely, gloriously and utterly” NT Wright Simply Christian.

Questions to Consider
Despite it being hard to imagine, what aspects of a restored creation excite you most? What might you be looking forward to?

Can we connect with people’s aspirations for wanting change in this world?

How does the Revelation picture help us value the present physical world?

How might this future hope be important in telling others about our faith?

Prayer
Almighty God, thank you for giving us a sneak peak at the climax of history and your glorious plans for the world you love. Let the reality of this hope fuel my faith, my care of this world, and increase the enthusiasm with which I share your story with those who do not know you yet, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Disruption of Shalom

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 3:8-23

What about the ‘middle’ of the story? The intimacy of relationships enjoyed at the beginning became estrangement when human beings chose to go their own way, unwilling to live under God’s rule. The ‘shalom’, the complete and fulfilling order of life was disrupted, thrown into disarray. The tragic consequences affected relationship with God, with each other, with the physical world, and with each person’s own sense of worth and identity.

But even within this passage there are hints of God’s process of restoration. There is a curse on the serpent, and v15 hints at the coming of Jesus who will crush the work of the evil one. In a loving accommodation for the shame brought about through disobedience, God provides garments for Adam and Eve. Access to the tree of life is barred, preventing a worse fate. (Note the restored access to this tree in Revelation 22). All of this is part of the story and cannot be ignored or glossed over. However we do a disservice to the enormity of the damage done if we limit our discussions of ‘sin’ to ‘just the wrong things we do’. The whole of the world was affected, along with every sense of relationship.

In our society it is common for school children to have no knowledge of Noah’s Ark or David and Goliath. Perhaps starting a conversation about being a ‘sinner’ gains little traction because there is no context within which to understand the term. Inviting people to hear the story of God and find their place in that story may be a more complete and fruitful conversation. It doesn’t dismiss the gravity of sin but places it within a framework that gives sense and purpose and hope.

In presenting the story of a good and whole creation which has obviously been disrupted and distorted, it is easy for people to relate to a sense of loss and own their own awareness of alienation, and even their own part in the breakdown of what was once “good”.

Prayer
Father God, help me stay true to your story, not minimizing separation from you, but also faithfully sharing the hope we have in your faithfulness. May the reality of your victory over evil and your triumph in restoring all things shape my living, my speech, my relationships and my story, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – Who You Are

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Colossians 1:15-23

The enormity of what we call “the fall”, the disruption of the good God created, calls for a rescue of equally cosmic proportions. “If redemption does not go as far as the consequences of sin, it is a misnomer, and fails to be redemption…The salvation of any number of individuals…is not the redemption of what fell but the gathering up of a few splinters,…[and in such a case] Satan’s mischief [would go] further than Christ’s restoration” JA Seiss, The Drama of Scripture.

This is truly a big story. It isn’t a story about getting people out of here. It is a story about participating with the Creator to restore Shalom. And where you start and end the story makes a difference.

If you begin the story in Genesis 3, you start with what people aren’t.

If you begin the story in Genesis 1, you start with what people are.

This story is “the insistence that through the resurrection of Jesus a whole new world is bursting forth right in the middle of this one and everyone  everywhere can be part of it….[this story] brings hope routed not in escape but engagement, not in evacuation but reclamation, not leaving but in staying and overcoming. [This story] isn’t ever surprised when grace, beauty, meaning, order, compassion, truth and love show up in all sorts of unexpected people and places because it always has been God’s world, it is God’s world, and it always will be God’s world” R Bell. Now there’s a conversation to have over the back fence.

Questions to Consider
Have I seen the gospel as being just about me?

Does this view of the story increase awareness of the work of Jesus on the cross?

Is telling people what they are (made in God’s image and called ‘very good’) as important, if not more important, than telling them they are sinners?

Prayer
Loving Father, as I grapple with sharing your truth with others, help me expand my own understanding of your love and mercy to your fallen world. Holy Spirit, please give me words that will connect and resonate with people as I step out and speak about my faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Local Missions Week 1

Readings for this week July 25 – 29
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1 – Sharing the Table Together

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 12:9-13

“[I]t remains my conviction that the table is sacred space and that what we do there is spiritually significant….What we do at the table expresses most tangibly what we believe, what we value and how we understand ourselves in relation to the world around us….eating is a social and political act of profound consequence, one that expresses tangibly our community identity and citizenship. And as one of the most routine activities of life – one that marks the rhythm and flow of every day – eating is embedded at the heart of what it means to be human.” (From Eating Heaven, Simon Carey Holt)

“When we gather around the table and break the bread together, we are transformed not only individually but also as community. We, people from different ages and races, with different backgrounds and histories, become one body. As Paul says: “As there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17). Not only as individuals but also as community we become the living Christ, taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world. As one body, we become a living witness of God’s immense desire to bring all peoples and nations together as the one family of God.” – Henri Nouwen

Questions to Consider
Who could you invite to share your table that you haven’t invited before? Who could you share with this week? Today? A hot drink and a chat may be all that’s needed. Ask God to help you think of someone, then go to it.

Prayer
Loving Father, may my table be a place where people can meet and eat together. May my house become known in my neighbourhood as a house of hospitality. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Transformative Eating

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Acts 10

“Peter was giving up his lifelong foodways–tantamount to his very identity–for the sake of Christ, unifying himself with those whom he’d always regarded as unclean.” (From Eat with Joy, Marie Stone):

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him – the people who give you their food give you their heart.” – Cesar Chavez

“The common meal forces us to pull our convictions down from the clouds of abstraction and work them out together in our very specific context.”

“Maybe by recovering the ancient formative practice of the common meal, our churches can bear witness to the possibilities of diverse and peaceable conversations in a deeply fragmented culture.”

(Both quotes from Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison)

“Perhaps the reason why we attach so much importance to sitting down to table together is that table fellowship is one of the realities of the Kingdom of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Questions to Consider
What are some of the most memorable times you have had sharing a meal with others? What friendships have started over a meal? How often do you eat with strangers? Why is it so important that we share our table with others?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, your kingdom is for all people. If there’s a place for me, there’s a place for anyone. Help me welcome the stranger, the ‘unclean’, and the enemy to my table. Thank you for your love and acceptance of all. May I model it in all I do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Shattering Our Illusions of Community

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realise it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great general disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but a God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp.15-16)

Questions to Consider
What illusions of community have you let go of? How has your community grown and strengthened as people have let go of their illusions?

Prayer
Lord God, puncture my illusions of myself, of others and of the community I think should be. Help me cling to your vision of community, in all its messiness and exuberance and inclusivity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – A Place for All to Share Their Gifts

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 4: 10

Citizens create satisfaction by recognising their individual capacities and skills. We begin to see that the neighbourhood is a treasure chest. By opening the chest and putting the gifts together in many different ways, we multiply the power of its riches.

A competent community builds on the gifts of its people. It knows that a gift is not a gift until it is given. Before it is given, it is only a beautifully wrapped box in a drawer. It is a capacity held in exile. Gifts need to be named and exchanged, not only to create a competent community, but also to create a functioning family. This is a family that has discovered its capacity to produce for itself, together with a competent community, all that is required for a truly good life, a satisfying life.

The tragedy of a dysfunctional family or neighbourhood is that the potential gifts of its members are never given. The paradox is that in the midst of this, we can hold skills that are useful to systems but never find the satisfaction of turning our skills into the gifts that are so needed by our family or neighbour […]

When we decide to build a competent, functional community, we do not need to be divided by differences. In focusing on gifts, we get beneath them, or above them, to something more foundational where people can find common ground. We don’t put people outside our value system; we include them in it. We speak to their gifts, rather than their differing values. (John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighbourhoods, pp.70-71)

Questions to Consider
What skills and gifts do you have? How are you using and sharing these gifts with your neighbours? How can you help your neighbours share their gifts in your community?

Prayer
Loving Father, may my gifts, given to me by you for your glory, be given to others and not left wrapped in the drawer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Slow Work of God

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 2 Peter 3:9

Trust in the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We would like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way

to something unknown,

something new.

And yet, it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability –

and that it may take a very long time.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God,

our loving vine-dresser.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Questions to Consider
What evidence of the slow work of God have you experienced in your life? In your community?

Prayer
Almighty God, community takes time. You took your time with your people as they grew, moulding them, shaping them patiently, even when they resisted. Give me strength and love for those around me, and give them patience for when they are waiting for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

The Good Shepherd – Called To Follow

Readings for this week July 18-22
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings
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Day 1  – Mindful of Eternity

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 5:1, Matthew 17:1-8, Luke 22:59-62

Many years after Jesus’ ascension, as Peter reflects on years as a leader of the early church, he writes to warn and encourage the believers to stand firm in the face of suffering and persecution. Peter addresses those in leadership roles, “elders”, who have responsibility to guide and protect God’s people, appealing to them to take their role seriously. As faithful shepherds he urges them to be mindful in four areas.

Firstly, in view of Eternity. Peter had, himself, some small glimpse of both the sufferings of Christ and the glory of Christ.  Invited to join Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was witness to the glory of God surrounding Jesus as he stood with Moses and Elijah. No wonder he could look forward with confidence to “the glory that will be revealed.” But perhaps more than any other disciple he had also seen something of the suffering of God. When standing outside the High Priest’s house having denied even knowing Jesus, Luke records that Jesus looked Peter in the eye, and Peter went out and wept bitterly. What suffering Peter must have witnessed; the suffering of the Good Shepherd, the heart of a leader who had been betrayed in his hour of need. Years after this event Peter must have been writing with his memories of Jesus still fresh in his mind. He knows tough times are ahead but his encouragement is to keep an eye on eternity – sufferings are real but the glory Jesus promised extends beyond time.

While Peter is primarily addressing elders in this verse, he will go on to speak to younger people , and in fact the qualities he is calling for apply to all followers of Jesus. Whatever our age or stage or role or function, being a follower of Jesus will of necessity involve both suffering and glory. We may not understand why, or relish the prospect, but this is the pattern, and this is the path that Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, walked and calls us to follow him into.

Question to Consider
How can Christ’s sufferings, and hope in his glory help us in our sufferings?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, help me understand your sufferings and your glory, and learn to encourage myself and others with the hope of a future shared with you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Mindful of Our Testimony

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter: 1-3

Peter calls elders or shepherds to be mindful of the example they set. Those with responsibility for others are not to be “Do as I say, not as I do” types of leaders. Just as Jesus modelled the character and way of life that he expected from his followers, so Peter is calling leaders (and everyone in fact) to lead by example and lead by serving. The great characteristic of the shepherd is the selfless care and sacrificial love he or she shows towards the sheep. “The point about shepherds is that the best of them aren’t thinking, “How can I be a shepherd?” but, “How can I best look after these sheep?” The focus of the good shepherd is not only on his or her own qualities but on the needs of, and potential dangers for, those they are looking after” NT Wright. Another word used for this shepherding role is ‘overseer’ and it has the meaning “to give attention to, look at, take care of, see to it.” The biblical idea of leader is to be a caretaker, not a master. The sheep do not belong to you as a leader, but to Jesus. How far removed this picture is from the world’s ideas where leaders often boss, nag, threaten and punish. True strength in leadership happens, says NT Wright because, “the work of humble service has forged such a strong bond between shepherd and sheep that the shepherd only needs to walk towards the pasture and the sheep will follow.”

Of course, this means that leaders must develop and maintain their own relationship with God, the Chief Shepherd. Being able to lead people closer to God means walking that way yourself first. No matter whether you are a Pastor, a missionary, a church worker, a small group or ministry leader or a parent or friend to someone younger in faith, there will always be someone a few steps behind who is looking to learn from the way you walk with God.

Questions to Consider
Who have I looked up to and learnt from? What aspects of their faith helped? Who are the people in my life that God might be asking me to ‘shepherd’ either in a formal or informal sense?

Prayer
Holy Spirit, show me any aspects of my life which you want to transform. Help me walk closely with you, open to your prompting, and ready to obey, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Mindful of Motives

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 5:1-4

This is an area that most people struggle with. It is all too easy to take on tasks and responsibilities simply because no one else is putting up their hand, or because we have never learnt to say no. This isn’t to say that every job we accept needs to be something that we are passionate about, or that we shouldn’t take our turn doing unpopular roles. As someone said recently, “Everybody loves community, but nobody wants to do the dishes!” But Peter is asking shepherds/elders/leaders to examine their motives. People who lead because they feel they have to are less likely to act with compassion towards their sheep. Notice that he doesn’t give a long list of qualifications, but rather speaks of willingness. The quality God is looking for is a willing heart; willing to serve him and trust him for all the role will require.

There are three other warnings given here; dangers that must not sneak into a leader’s motivations:

1. Laziness. Our prime motivation must not be to seek leisure and comfort and ease. Leaders carry a solemn and important responsibility. Paul writes, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” Acts 20:28. God views his people as precious, bought with a price, and he will hold his under-shepherds accountable. “Have confidence in your leaders…because they watch over you as those who must give an account” Hebrews 13:17.

Questions to Consider
When have you taken on a responsibility begrudgingly? Did this help or hinder your doing a good job? How did it leave you feeling?

If you are in this position now, ask God to help change your heart, making you willing in the way that will please him, and finding joy in the task.

Prayer
Lord God, whatever roles or tasks come my way, may I first and foremost seek to please you with my attitude of willingness. When appropriate, teach me how and when to say no, with a gracious spirit. Let me never take the responsibilities you give me lightly, but fulfil them with humility and diligence, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Mindful of Motives and Reward

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 5:2-4

Two more motive Peter warns are inappropriate for God’s people:

2. Greed. “Pursuing dishonest gain” is the way Peter puts it. Seeking to benefit personally from being a leader is not the way of Jesus. Of course it is easy to think of examples of big flashy ministries where money has been their downfall. This may not be us, but what about exploiting resources or even our use of time?

3. Pride. This is perhaps the number one danger for leaders. A certain amount of confidence is necessary in leading, guiding and caring for others, but there is danger in beginning to think ourselves as indispensible. Having others look up to us can develop into a love of power and prestige, perhaps expecting special treatment or special honour. Power becomes addictive, which is why we must constantly set before us Jesus’ model of the servant-leader who poured out his life for others. “Pride is the failure to realise deeply that without Christ we can do nothing. And so the proud heart starts to feel that it can be self-reliant. And then it begins to feel that it is indispensible. And then it starts to act that way and exalt itself and seek the praise of men” John Piper.

Lastly, Peter holds out the reminder of a reward. Sometimes we might feel uncomfortable about the thought of reward. Shouldn’t we be just serving God because of his goodness and love towards us? Yes, and yet the Bible clearly speaks of an eternal reward for placing our faith in Jesus. Peter calls it a “crown of glory that will never fade.” Earlier Peter writes of, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade”1:4. An inheritance is bestowed on you because you belong to the family, not so much duty and tasks, but recognition of relationship. Just as the shepherd develops a relationship of trust with this flock, so God desires a relationship of trust and devotion with each and every one of us.

Question to Consider
Which of these dangerous motives is most likely to trip me up?

Prayer
Father God, speak to me about our relationship. Show me how to draw closer to you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – No Easy Road

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 5:5-7

Just in case you have been thinking that all this talk of shepherds and leaders doesn’t apply to you, have a look at how Peter finishes off this chapter. Having addressed the elders, often those who were older in years and in the faith, he says to those who are younger, “in the same way…” That is, the qualities that make a good shepherd or leader are the same qualities that make a good follower; willingness, good work ethics, not greedy or power hungry, humble and willing to live a transparent life before others. Whatever our roles, age or stage, humility is the right wardrobe for all occasions. There is no need to strive and jostle for a top job because it is God who will put you in the right place and strengthen you to stay there if you continually put yourself in his hands.

Behind Peter’s words stands his own example. Peter had been the impulsive hothead, the first to open his mouth, the first to take rash action. But he had learnt humility. He could have addressed his reader saying, “I appeal as an Apostle…” but he writes as a servant, “I appeal as a fellow elder and witness of Christ’s sufferings…”

Peter knew from long experience that leadership could be a hard road to walk. Perhaps this is why he adds, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” Leaders were never meant to carry burdens too big for them. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, is the one to whom we can bring each and every concern.

Take a few minutes to identify any burdens that are weighing you down. Name them and bring them to Jesus asking for his strength and wisdom.

Take a few minutes to identify the people in your life who have some role of responsibility. Bring them before God, asking for his strength and wisdom to be theirs. Give thanks for people skilled in leadership and care of others. And next time you have the chance, give them a word of encouragement and thanks.

Prayer
Father God, thank you that you call leaders to care for your people. Thank you that I can bring all my concerns to you because you care for me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

The Good Shepherd – Jesus Embodies

Readings for this week July 11 – 15
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings
Good Shepherd Cover front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 – The Shepherd as King

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 10:1-6

There are many who would claim to be the rightful leader(s) of the sheep – of God’s people – and would seek to exercise authority and leadership over the sheep, the Pharisees chief among them. But Jesus issues an unequivocal warning to those who would attempt to subvert his leadership and take his place at the head of the flock. And it’s not just the wrong leader he’s talking about, but the wrong type of leader.

Jesus is the counter-cultural king – then and now. He didn’t come as a powerful ruler, commanding his subjects to do his bidding. He didn’t come as a rich merchant, buying and selling and using his wealth and power to influence those clamouring around him. He didn’t set himself up as a distant ruler or a powerful patron, far removed from those he had power over, leaving his subordinates to interact with people.

In John 9, the big question everyone was asking was whether Jesus was God; if so, what does that say about God? Next thing you know, Jesus is telling a parable about a shepherd and, later, goes on to describe himself as the shepherd. This is his answer to everyone’s burning question. This is what God is like. He is the one who calls to his sheep, who knows each one by name. When Jesus was looking for an image to sum up his claim to be Israel’s true king, the good shepherd was the one he choose. The good shepherd calls his sheep, they recognise his voice – his alone, no one else’s – and they follow him.

Questions to Consider
What is it about the image of the shepherd that causes Jesus to adopt it? How does this image encapsulate his vision of leadership?

Prayer
Almighty God, make my life and actions as counter-cultural and at the same time as loving as yours were. May I be guided by your example in all I do today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Jesus the Door

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 10:7-10

Is Jesus the door? Or is he the guardian of the door? Or both? How do we explain this? There were different types of pens used for the sheep, depending on whether they were in the town or out in the fields and countryside. The field enclosures had only one entrance, one way in and out. These fields pens were often caves, or simple stone and brick structures, often just four high walls and a doorway, not even a roof. Out in the countryside, away from the towns, there was more need for protection. When using one of these country pens, the shepherd would lie down across the entranceway in order to keep the sheep in the pen, and wolves and other predators out. The shepherd was, literally, the door.

That is why this passage has the double sense of Jesus being the door – the one covering and protecting the entrance – and the one who grants rightful entry to the pen, the one who decides who goes in and out. The sense of protection and safety and of preserving the life of the flock is still of vital importance – the shepherd providing abundant life – but also now relevant is the shepherd as the one who determines who enters the pen, who “enters through me”, as Jesus says.

Jesus offers the way to salvation, to abundant life in the presence of God. Jesus is the door. And saying so – boldly and unashamedly – was a ray of hope to so many people, but many (the religious leaders especially) saw it more as the sign of a dangerous madman.

Question to Consider
What images come to mind when thinking of Jesus as the door?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for your protection. Thank you for being the shepherd who lays down his life for the flock. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The True Shepherd

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 10:11-13

The nature of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep that Jesus describes here is a close, personal, intimate one. We read several weeks ago about how the shepherd stays close to his sheep, he travels with them, guides them, protects them – how he gets involved in the messy, intimate practicalities of the lives of his sheep. That is because God cares deeply for each sheep, he has a close personal connection with them. The sheep are his. They belong to him. Jesus is not just a worker being paid to look after the sheep – someone else’s sheep – who would view the sheep as mere property.

The true shepherd shows himself by his actions, by what he does, by the way he tends to and cares for his sheep – no matter what creatures arise to attack and threaten him and his flock. A hired hand – someone looking after the sheep because it’s their job, it’s what they’re being paid for – would rather save themselves when danger arises, than risk all for the sheep.

As Jesus highlights here, the true shepherd gives himself for his sheep. He isn’t in it for himself, he doesn’t run away at the first sign of trouble, seeking his own preservation and safety, abandoning his mission, his vocation, simply because he is threatened. The true shepherd is self-sacrificial. It is in his nature to act this way for his sheep. With wild animals around, violent death is a possibility for a shepherd. But Jesus, like his love, goes even further: violent death is his vocation, is part of his calling as Israel’s – and the world’s – true shepherd king. The shepherd shows his love by his actions.

Questions to Consider
How are your actions the sacrificial actions of a shepherd? How are you giving your life for others?

Prayer
Loving father, your example of sacrificial love is hard one to follow sometimes. I pray for the strength daily to take up my cross and follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Enlarging the Flock

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 10:14-18

For Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rescuing the flock from its current predicament – as crucial as that is – isn’t the only thing that he has come to do. Not only has he come to extricate Israel from its plight – adrift in exile, oppressed by corrupt leaders and foreign powers, corporately and individually estranged from God – he has also come to do something even more radical than an audacious rescue. Redeeming Israel is not enough. The nation needs to be called back to its true vocation, its true calling as God’s chosen people, chosen for the sake of the world. Jesus states that he is going to begin accomplishing this by significantly enlarging the flock – not by enlarging Israel, though he bids all Israel to harken to his words and follow him – but by bringing in other sheep from outside the flock, sheep usually considered unclean, beyond the pale of acceptability.

From the very beginning, from the call of Abraham, through the various rulers and prophets who led and guided Israel, God was always concerned to remind Israel that his calling of them was not just for her own benefit. The calling of Israel had as its ultimate goal the healing and restoration of the whole of creation, including all people everywhere. Despite numerous reminders, the Israelites had forgotten this. Jesus reminds them; Jesus shows them what the faithful Israelite looks like.

And Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was to become the Lord of the whole world, shepherd to a flock that included all people in all places. He decides who enters the sheepfold – and the entire world was about to be invited through the gate: Jews and Gentiles, righteous and pagan, oppressed and oppressors.

Questions to Consider
How do you think the various sections of Israelite society would react to this message? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for your graciousness in inviting all people into the safety and intimacy of your sheep pen. May I never forget that your love and protection are offered to all, no matter who they are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – An Unpopular Message

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 10:19-30

The image of a shepherd looking after his sheep is a nice comforting image, the type of picture that easily lends itself to soothing pastoral scenes of fluffy white sheep frolicking in verdant pastures, watched over by a benevolent, serenely smiling, kind-hearted shepherd – the type of scene depicted in numerous devotional images and paintings.

It’s quite easy to forget that the immediate result of Jesus sharing this image of himself as the good shepherd was that people tried to kill him. We shouldn’t really be surprised though. In another famous biblical passage, Jesus stood up in his local synagogue and read a passage from the scroll of Isaiah, proclaiming healing and restoration for people….and was nearly killed for his pains. Some people are not going to like the message of Jesus that we are called to embody in our lives. But we must still embody it as Jesus’ people in the world. The message of Jesus, the message embodied in Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, is controversial. Though the message contains numerous references, examples, and demonstrations of God’s overwhelming love for his people and his creation, it also contains multiple challenges to the powers-that-be, both secular and spiritual, and the social status quo. A ringing, hope-filled manifesto of what Jesus intended to do ended with people trying to grab him and throw him off a cliff. A tender, loving image of a shepherd caring for his sheep ends with people trying to stone Jesus to death. That is all part of the message we carry, and we must not forget it.

Question to Consider

“When people scoff at us and attack us because we proclaim Jesus, we must be doing something right.” Discuss this statement. Is it true here? Why or why not?

Prayer

Lord God, in the hard, dangerous times be with us and give us the courage of your Son to speak the truth of you no matter what we face. Give those in the world who already face these dangers courage and strength. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

The Good Shepherd – Jesus Portrays

Readings for this week July 4 – 8
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1  – Setting the Scene

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 15:1-4

We so love this parable Jesus tells of a lost sheep and the shepherd who seeks it out, that it is easy to skip over its setting and the impact intended on its audience. The story is given to defend Jesus’ behaviour in eating with “sinners.” The audience comprises tax collectors and sinners, but also Pharisees and teachers of the law, (the respectable law abiding types) who were scandalized that Jesus should mix with those they considered unclean. In stating that Jesus “welcomes” them, it may even be the case that Jesus not only visited, but hosted these social outcasts. Meals and table fellowship are important anywhere in the world. But in the Middle East it carries implications of generosity and honour, both for the host and the guests.

“To understand what Jesus was doing in eating with “sinners,” it is important to realize that in the east, even today, to invite a man to a meal was an honour. It was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life…thus Jesus’ meals with the publicans and sinners…are an expression of the mission and message of Jesus (Mark 2:17)” J Jeremias.

That Jesus would include sinners at a meal, either by going as a guest or by inviting as a host, would have signaled his willingness to include and honour such people. This would have outraged his opponents who worked hard to keep themselves completely separate from sinners. This, then, is the background to their muttering or grumbling, and why Jesus takes such pains to defend his actions with three stories about valuing lost things.

Questions to Consider
What were the characteristics that made Jesus so attractive to tax collectors and sinners? Do we demonstrate these same characteristics in such a way that people on the fringes are attracted?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, you are no respecter of persons, and you love each person the same. Holy Spirit I ask you to soften my heart to be willing to interact, welcome, encourage, pray for, witness to, and help any person you bring across my path, that your love for them would be demonstrated and your name glorified, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Just One of the Flock

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 15:1-4

Moses, the great leader of Israel was known to be a shepherd. The shepherd role was assigned to Kings, and as such was seen as a noble symbol. God himself is pictured as a shepherd and it was commonly used and revered in allegories. But somehow in 1st century Israel the flesh and blood shepherd was distained and his role viewed as lowly and unclean. While we might read this story as a charming, tender-hearted tale of a caring shepherd, the Pharisees would have been shocked and insulted when Jesus begins his story with, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.” No high minded Pharisee would in his wildest dreams consider taking up a job as a shepherd. Jesus is deliberately challenging the Pharisee’s prejudice and attitude to certain professions.

Jesus’ story is about one hundred sheep. One sheep is very much like another, and the one who wanders off is not stigmatised as different, wrong, lacking, bad or unworthy. It is just lost. In effect Jesus is saying, “The shepherd seeks the lost. I seek the lost and so should you” Kenneth Bailey. It’s easy for us to fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. When have we looked at someone who isn’t living by our particular set of rules, or our particular markers of spirituality, and judged them as lesser people, perhaps even unworthy people?

The point of the story is that tax collectors and sinners belong to God, despite outward appearances and despite society’s judgements. And God wants them back, wants them included, and will take endless pains to restore those who are lost.

Questions to Consider
What labels does society easily slap on people? What are the dangers in labelling others?

Prayer
Loving God, forgive me for the times I have labelled other people in ways that betray my lack of love. Please give me eyes to see as you see, and courage to make our faith community a place of welcome and belonging, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – A Community Affair

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 15:3-6

Kenneth Bailey, missionary and scholar, spent many years working alongside native people from Egypt, Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon. He retold Jesus’ parables to peasants from Morocco to Pakistan, gleaning insight into the cultural aspects of Jesus’ world and the impact these stories would have made on Jesus’ hearers.

The central theme of this parable is joy; the invitation to share in the joy of the conversion of sinners. This is in direct contrast to the grumbling of the Pharisees. Bailey notes that it was uncommon for a single person to own 100 sheep and in most cases an extended family or families, or even a whole village would group their sheep together and appoint a family member to the role of shepherd. Several shepherds would work together and bring the flock back to the village at the end of the day. In the case of a missing sheep, one shepherd would head off to search for it while the others returned the sheep to their home. The community would know that one shepherd had not returned and was out alone in what might well be dangerous conditions. The loss of a sheep was a community loss. Therefore when the shepherd returns carrying the lost sheep there is a call for the whole community to rejoice.

In our individualistic society we are less likely to pick up on the importance of community; the fate of one is not divorced from the life of the whole. The shepherd’s concern, God the Father’s concern, should also be our concern. The sinner is not just lost to him or herself, but lost to community. NT Wright, commenting on the party that breaks out in heaven over one sinner who repents says, “If we don’t get in on it we’re out of tune with God’s reality.”

Questions to Consider
Do we mourn for those lost from community? How can we rejoice when they are restored? How is this insight challenging to the idea that faith is a private thing?

Prayer
Lord God, please help us grasp just how much you grieve for those who are separated from you and therefore separated from your family. Help us to get in tune with your reality so that we might be a part of bringing lost people back to you and sharing in the celebration that fills heaven, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Burden of Restoration

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 15:3-5

There is rejoicing when the shepherd arrives home with the lost sheep. But verse 5 tells us that there is also joy at the point the shepherd located his lost sheep. A sheep that has wandered so far that a search must be mounted, may well have found its way into dangerous ground. A lone shepherd must face threatening terrain and the possibility of bandits or wild animals in his search. The search has a price, restoration comes at a cost; but it is a cost the shepherd is willing to pay.

Kenneth Bailey notes that a lost sheep will typically lie down helplessly and refuse to budge. The sheep could not find its own way home. The shepherd is forced to lift the sheep to his shoulders and carry it a long distance back to safety. In the finding, the shepherd “joyfully puts it on his shoulders” even though there is a journey to restoration and the hard work is still before him.

As we view this story in the light of the cross, can we see in a new way the burden of restoration? The pain and humiliation that Jesus endured, he accepted willingly to see lost people restored to his Father; brought home! The writer to the Hebrews says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” Heb 12:2. While joy is the central theme here, it comes at great cost.

Questions to Consider
What does the search say about the character of the shepherd?
What does it say about the value of the lost sheep?
Use this image to meditate on the significance of Jesus’ suffering and death. Offer prayers of thankfulness and praise in light of your being found and restored.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I am humbled and amazed by your great love, your sacrifice that enabled me to be restored to fellowship with the Father. May I never take for granted the price you paid. Let me sense the joy you experience in drawing me into your loving embrace, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – Gracious Love

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 15:1-7

Sheep are not known for their initiative, hence the need for a shepherd. The single sheep could well get itself lost, but not get itself found and restored to the flock. For the rabbis of Jesus’ time repentance was a way of bringing the kingdom of God. But Jesus called for people to repent because the kingdom was already among them. The rabbis thought that repentance had to come before God’s grace was made available, and it was a person’s repentance that showed his or her worthiness. Yet in Jesus’ stories we see time and time again that God takes the initiative to act first. The lost sheep has done nothing to prompt the shepherd to begin his search; it is simply lost.

This is the gracious love of God who seeks us because of his Father’s heart. It is the shepherd who finds the sheep. Yet at the end of the parable we are told that there is rejoicing “over one sinner who repents.” Somehow Jesus is equating “being found” with “repentance.” It has more to do with what God does for us than anything we can do for God. For our part, there is the need to recognise our being “lost” and humbly accepting all God has done for us.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean to me that God seeks me before I do anything to please him? One theologian’s definition of faith is “Accepting acceptance.” What do you think of this? In light of God acting first to find us, how might you explain repentance to someone who doesn’t know the Bible?

Prayer
Loving God, thank you that you first reached out to me before I knew how to respond to you. Teach me how to continually trust you, and your plans to care for me, rather than trying to earn your attention. Touch my heart with an increasing compassion for those who are still far from you. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

The Good Shepherd – The Prophets Predict (Part 2)

Readings for this week June 27 – July 1
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings
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Day 1 – Like Sheep Without a Shepherd

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Zechariah 10:2-5

Why do the people wander like sheep that have no shepherd? Because they have listened to false and dishonest leaders, leaders who have deceived them and led them astray. There has been a massive failure of leadership. The leaders who were supposed to be caring for the people and leading them in God’s name have betrayed the people, deceived them, and treated them badly.

In these verses, we see the contrast between God as the Good Shepherd and the kings and religious leaders of the time as bad shepherds. They don’t care for the people. They don’t look after them, they don’t provide for them or protect them and they lead them away from good spiritual pastures and down false trails. Everything that a good shepherd is supposed to be and do, they are not and they do not do.

But God says he will care for his flock. He will destroy these bad shepherds who have hurt his people, and he will be their Good Shepherd again, caring for them, making them ‘like a proud horse in battle’ (i.e. restoring them to their former glory, their former state).  In the images of the cornerstone, the tent peg, the battle bow and the ruler we see the promise not only the restoration of the people, but also glimpses of the coming of the Messiah, one who will rule not just over Israel, but over all the earth as God’s sovereign anointed one. Though the sheep wander lost and confused for the moment, God will rescue them and through them will come greater glory than they can imagine.

Questions to Consider
What characteristics do you think a leader should have? How are these the characteristics of a shepherd? How is God a model for this?

Prayer
Lord God, I pray for our leaders. May they seek to emulate you as they serve their people. May they be as caring, protective, strong and nurturing as you are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Shepherd Brings Unexpected Joy

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Zechariah 10:6-7

The Good Shepherd is a wonder-working Shepherd, a mighty God who can do mighty things. He can overthrow bad shepherds – bad leaders – right terrible wrongs, and restore what was lost, bringing joy to his people. Today’s reading shows how he can accomplish the seemingly impossible, giving us proof of the fact that he will not abandon his flock, no matter what the cause of their straying.

The reference to the ‘house of Judah’ refers to the southern kingdom, while the ‘house of Joseph’ refers to the northern kingdom. (Ephraim, who was the son of Joseph, was the paramount tribe of the northern kingdom.) For God to claim that he would strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph was something that would have been an astonishing idea to the Israelites. The reason that this would be seen as such an unexpected occurrence was because of how utterly impossible such reunification would have seemed – especially since it had been close to 200 years since the people of the northern kingdom had been enslaved and carried off into exile. How could such a scattered, assimilated people, so thoroughly absorbed into the conquering cultures, be brought back safely into the fold, back into the care of their God?

Well, because nothing is impossible for God. Nothing is impossible for the Good Shepherd. When he promises to reunite his flock, to bind them back together, and bring them back to himself so he can lead and protect them once again, there is no power that can stop him doing so. He is all powerful and all loving. He never forgets his flock. And unexpected, unlooked for joy will descend upon his people when he acts to restore them to himself, joy like they have never known – joy that only their Creating and Sustaining Shepherd can bring.

Question to Consider
What is the most astonishing, unexpected thing God has done for you?

Prayer
Almighty God, thank you for being a God of miracles, a God who cares for us so much that nothing is beyond your ability to rescue us. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – I Will Whistle For My Sheep

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Zechariah 10:8

In the Middle East, both in ancient times and now, recognizing and knowing the shepherd’s voice was the most important thing a sheep needed to do. The shepherd was responsible for leading his flock, for protecting them, feeding and watering them, caring for them and leading them from place to place. The sheep had to listen for their shepherd’s voice and follow that voice. In a world without sheep dogs, quad bikes, and electric fences, the whistles, calls, songs and noises of the shepherd were what the sheep would need to follow in order to safely follow the shepherd. When their shepherd called, they would recognize and follow.

That is what God says he will do in verse 8: I will signal for them, he says. The Hebrew word used could very easily be translated as ‘whistle’ – like the whistle that a shepherd gives to his flock so that they will come to him so he can lead them on. God promises to call his wayward people to him so that he can gather them back to himself and ‘redeem’ them, increase their number, and restore them to the place at his side that they had previously enjoyed.

God calls to his people – us – even when we have strayed and abandoned him and left the path we are supposed to be walking on. These verses attest to God’s faithfulness, his absolute commitment to us and the relationship he has with us. When we stray, still he calls and waits for us to hear his voice and return to him.

Questions to Consider
How has God called to you in the past? How has he got your attention when you have strayed? How did you respond?

Prayer
Father, yet again we read of your faithfulness to us; yet again we see an example of you not abandoning your people, no matter how far they stray. Thank you for not leaving us to our fate, for loving us so much and always calling us back to you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – A Scattered Flock Brought Back

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Zechariah 10:9-11

Though the people of God are scattered throughout the nations, and though it happened as a sign of God’s displeasure and punishment of his rebellious people, he still promises that they will return. Even in exile they will remember him and survive to return. Though it seems impossible, God has shown time and time again that he is more than capable of being the God of the impossible.

Mention of the nations of Assyria and Egypt would evoke strong memories for the Israelites, memories of destruction, separation and slavery. These two nations were responsible for some of the darkest, most horrible times in Israel’s history. And yet the ‘sea of trouble’ would remind the Israelites of one of the greatest moments as God’s people, one of the founding events in the history of their nation: the parting of the Red Sea through which the Israelites were powerfully and miraculously delivered from slavery and oppression in Egypt.

By reminding them of their previous deliverance – an event that seemed impossible at the time – God reminds them of what he had done for them before as a way of ensuring that he will do it again. No matter how far and wide the people are scattered, he will bring them together again to be his people. The nations and circumstances that seem to be oppressing the people now, separating them from God and his saving, restoring power, will not be able to withstand the power of God when he moves to bring his people back – and the shepherd will bring his people back.

Questions to Consider
What are the ‘seas of trouble’ that God has rescued you from in the past? What did you learn about God during the rescue?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you that no circumstances are too much for you. Even when I am in the deepest trouble, you are able to pull me out when I call to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – “I Will Strengthen Them”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Zechariah 10:12

God promises that he will strengthen his people. After everything they have been through, even after their sinfulness and straying, God will strengthen them, as promised here and earlier in this chapter. But what is often required for this to happen is that we stay close to God, closely following where he leads. When he calls us back, we must return, and we must remain. A shepherd can most effectively care for and protect the sheep if the sheep stay close to him and go where he leads.

“I will strengthen them in the Lord and in his name they will walk,” declares the Lord. This alludes back to Psalm 23, where the psalmist speaks of the Lord “guiding me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” God can do wonderful mighty things for us and through us – if we stay close to him.

If we stay close to God, the power of his Holy Spirit will enable us to do whatever God asks of us, no matter what obstacles may be in the way, no matter what hardships may attend us on the journey. Staying close is the key. When we stray – when we leave the path and go our own way, out of earshot of our master’s voice – we cut ourselves off from the source of life and power that gives us breath and sustains us, from the very One who gives us the ability to do what he asks us to do. God can do anything, and yes, he can reach out to us in wonderful and miraculous ways no matter where we are. But how much better for us – and for God’s plan for his creation – if we stay close, within earshot, eagerly listening for the call to carry on.

Questions to Consider
What causes you to stray? What are the things that make you sometimes miss hearing God’s call? What can you do to stop this happening?

Prayer
Almighty God, help me stay close to you. May I be faithful and disciplined so that I do not stray far from you, but do all I can to stay near your voice so I can always immediately hear and recognise your call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

The Good Shepherd – The Image Appears

Readings for this week June 13 – 17

Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1 – The Lord is My Shepherd

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:1

The idea of God as a shepherd was not unusual in the ancient Middle East; other cultures also contained the idea of a king as a shepherd, and the thought of applying the analogy to God had already appeared in the Hebrew scriptures. Genesis 49:24 refers to God as “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.” Here in New Zealand we are familiar with farmers, the modern equivalent to shepherds, although our society’s opinion of farmers is markedly different to ancient Israel’s view of shepherds. In most ancient Middle Eastern cultures the work of the shepherd was considered fit only for the lowest of the low. In any given farming family, the unpleasant job of tending the sheep was always given to the youngest son – like David.

And yet God deigns to take care of us and guide us and protect us the way a shepherd does his flock. The image that the Psalmist has chosen here is not a distant one like ‘shield’, or ‘rock’ or even the impersonal ‘king’. Shepherd is intimate, it implies closeness, proximity, the shepherd living with the sheep, handling them, defending them and protecting them in the reality of their world and environment. And, for the Psalmist, God is ‘my shepherd’. He knew the closeness and love of God his shepherd in a close, personal sense. A key theme bound up with the image of shepherd is one of care, concern, loving attention lavished on his charges, and the provision of peace and security for their well-being. This the Psalmist knows deep in his being. “The Lord is my shepherd” – and I am his.

Questions to Consider
What does the word shepherd mean to you? What does it mean to say you are one of God’s sheep?

Prayer
Holy Father, thank you for your love for me and your care for your people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Giver of Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:2-3

Many translations of verse three use the word ‘soul’, and speak of it being restored or refreshed, as if the Lord was merely reinvigorating someone who was exhausted. But that is not what the Hebrew word nefesh means. It more accurately translates as ‘breath of life’ or simply ‘life’, and is meant to conjure up the image of someone being resuscitated, or restored to life after a brush with death (Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, p.78). This signifies the utter dependence the sheep have upon their master, and that we are to have on God, as the one who gives and sustains life, the Creator who breathed life into us. And as the one who gave us life in the first place, the one who knows us best and knows what is best for us, he is the one we are to look to, ahead of all others. He is our leader.

And it is this idea of leadership that is often missed here. The emphasis on the shepherd being the one who leads also highlights an important point that we can easily forget. We do not need to know where the green pastures and pleasant fields and flowing streams are; that is not what we are to focus on. All we need to know is where the shepherd is. The shepherd is the one who will guide the sheep to what they need. All that the sheep need to do is trust the shepherd, stay close to him, and follow, in holy obedience, where he leads.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean to follow the shepherd? How are we to tune ourselves in to the shepherd’s voice?

Prayer
Almighty God, keep me close. Guide me with your Word and through your Spirit so that I might know my Master’s loving voice more and more with each passing day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Wherever We Go

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:4

The promise of God is not that there will be no dark times – that his sheep will always be safe and secure and will never find themselves in dangerous places – but that he is always with us in these dark times and dangerous places. Our reason for not fearing is that he is with us, he journeys with us every step of the way – the shepherd stays close by his sheep, even when the sheep make a misstep off the path the shepherd is leading them down. The shepherd’s rod and staff will guide and console, images from the shepherd metaphor designed to show the continuing care and love that the shepherd lavishes on his flock, that God lavishes on us.

Notice that, at this crucial moment of panic and fear, the speaker turns to God and addresses him in the second person – you, your – a further sign of the deep intimacy and closeness that the speaker feels with God. My shepherd. This is a relationship of reciprocated love.

God is intimately close to us at all times, and here we are reminded that even in the most dire of circumstances, we are not to fear because he is with us. Too often we can focus on the danger, the fear, the uncertainty, more than we focus on the one who loves us and will never leave us. Because God does not lead us anywhere he does not also travel. And as we wander off track (like a solitary lost sheep), there is nowhere he won’t go in order to get us back.

Question to Consider
When has God left the path in order to find you? What happened?

Prayer
Lord God, thank for never leaving nor forsaking me, even when I leave or forsake you. Thank you for seeking and finding. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – In the Presence of My Enemies

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:5

God does not promise that all our enemies will automatically be destroyed. God’s love and concern and care for us doesn’t automatically get rid of the ‘presence of [our] enemies’ – instead, shockingly, we are able to experience God’s goodness and provision and his bounty right in the midst of our enemies.

God does not promise that we will never experience times of danger or trouble but rather that he will always be with us. In the midst of our enemies, God is there too. We experience his presence, not just his bounty.

The word in verse 5 often translated as ‘anointing’ is dishen, but this isn’t the same word used in the sense of anointing in other places in the Old Testament. In this psalm the word means something closer to moisten, not in a ritual sense but in a luxuriant sense, reinforcing the sheer audacity of God laying a table in the face of enemies (Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, p79). This verse lists some of the elements of a contented life and places them in the presence of our enemies to show God’s provision and rule at all times.

Questions to Consider
When has God miraculously provided for you in the face of your enemies? How did it give you a new appreciation for him?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me find you in the presence of my enemies. Help me seek the goodness you provide even in the face of threats and danger. May my focus always be on you and your goodness, and not the fear or uncertainty that sometimes surrounds me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – All the Days of My Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:6

In the world of the Old Testament, to dine at someone’s table wasn’t the same as socially having someone over for a meal the way we do today. It was a more formal occasion, with a lot of relational weight behind it. To eat together was to create a bond of mutual loyalty and devotion, to join in a close relationship of common cause – often a covenant relationship. It was very common for alliances and treaties and so forth to culminate in a great feast to cement the newly forged relationship between the entreating parties. To dwell in the house of the Lord is a similar thing here. It’s more than to be invited in for a meal, to stay the night before being on your way again. It is to live with him, to be joined with him in relationship. That is what the shepherd offers his sheep – he offers them his friendship and his care.

This is one of the key things about Jesus as our shepherd, as the Good Shepherd (to briefly look ahead a few weeks). We have seen that our shepherd is with us, guides us, is intimately involved in our lives and our joys and our troubles. He does not shrink from getting involved in the messiness of our lives. As Jesus himself says, “I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:14). And yet a little later on he calls us his friends. Yes, he is our Master, the one we follow and obey. But he is also our friend, inviting us to enter his house and feast with him “forever more”.

Questions to Consider
What is the difference that having Jesus as a friend as well as a shepherd makes? How do the two images complement and reinforce each other?

Prayer
Lord God, You are the Good Shepherd. You are our Lord and master, leading us onwards, always looking out for us and providing for us. You are also our friend. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Money – Living and Giving

Readings for this week Jun 6 – 10
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Money Booklet cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1  – Bigger Barns

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 12:13-19

Jesus had plenty to say about money. He did not teach against money as such, but did examine how it was acquired and the owner’s attitude towards it.

In this story about a greedy farmer the man is faced with a dilemma because of an unexpected bumper crop. The Message describes well the attitude that Jesus is targeting in his story. The farmer “talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest…Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’” Several things are wrong with this picture.

1.  There is no hint of gratitude on the part of the farmer. Had he really caused such a prolific crop? Was he not the beneficiary of blessings outside his control? Yet his attitude is, “Self, you’ve done well!” God is forgotton.

2.  No other parable is so full of “I” “my” “mine”.  The story is told of a small schoolboy who was adked, “What parts of speach are mine and my?” He replied, “Aggressive pronouns!” We may smile but a worldview framed by “I” “my” and “mine” forms a pretty small picture.

3.  The rich man could not see beyond himself. In his unexpected windfall there is no thought of including others in his blessing. Those things God gives us, whether material possessions or abilities and talents, are to be used beyond just our selves. Within the Old Testament laws there was provision made for those who had more to bless those with less. Famers had to leave the edges of their fields unharvested for the poor and the foreigner. Olive trees and grape vines were harvested only once, leaving something for the needy.

Questions to Consider
Do I acknowledge God’s part in all that comes my way?

What does this parable tell us about God’s attitude to community?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me take seriously your expectations around caring for others through the many ways that you have blessed me. Show me anywhere that greed is creeping into my attitude towards money and possessions, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Beyond the Barns

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 12: 13-21, 34

Not being aware of God’s generosity and not considering sharing the abundance of what he had received was certainly central to Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool. But it goes further than this. Not only could the rich man not see beyond his own comfort, and consider blessing others around him, but his vision was only for this life. His world consisted of what he could see and experience right now. His goal was “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Yet in a single moment his life was at an end and all that he relied on was taken away. The next life, and the things that last beyond this world did not figure in his master plan.

The Message puts it, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.” Jesus contrasts hoarding things for ourselves with being rich toward God. He is challenging our vision and our priorities and the need to set our hearts on treaure that will last. What might this “treasure in heaven” look like? Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, California, suggests God has five ‘Investment Funds’

1.       Invest in what will grow godly character

2.       Invest in what will encourage fellowship in the Body of Christ

3.       Invest in serving others in need

4.       Invest in God’s Global fund – seeing the Good News spead to all people

5.       Invest in God’s Treasury fund – tithes and offerings as an act of worhsip

“‘Treasures in heaven’ are things of worth in God’s coming kingdom, such as justice, opportunity for everyone to be productive, provision for everyone’s needs, and respect for the dignity of every person. The implication is that we would do better to invest our money in activities that transform the world, than in securities that protect our accumulated surplus.” www.theologyofwork.org

Questions to Consider
What will outlast me?

What things of true worth am I prepared to invest in?

Prayer
Father God, you are a faithful God who provides for your people. Expand my vision to value the things you value, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Fuss Less – Trust More

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 12: 22-34

The title given to this passage in The Message is ‘Steep Yourself in God-Reality’. If you have a copy of this translation, take the time to read this passage again. It’s wonderfully refreshing and encourgaes us to take ourselves a little less seriously. Jesus has been addressing issues of greed and generosity and vision for those who have much. Now he adds something for those who feel they haven’t much. And it’s a simple message; Don’t Worry!! At least it is simple to grasp but often so hard for us to do.

Jesus talks about clothes and food and ravens and wild flowers. But behind all these things he is trying to get across the heart of his Father. Ultimately, it is only trust in, and experience of the nature of our heavenly Father, who knows our needs and delights in taking care of us, that will free us to be the lighthearted and generous people we were created to be. Worry seems to be the norm in our society; but it is not God’s intention for us. This is why we have to take conscious steps to immerse our minds and hearts in God-Reality.

At the recent Neighbourhood Core Camp one of the highlights from our speakers was the challenge to ‘Engage the Resistance.’ This basically meant that when a challenge or invitation or worry meets with an intial reaction of “No” it is worth pausing and beginning a dialogue, first with ourselves and perhaps with others, to examine what is causing this resistance. Go a little deeper and discover what fears or doubts, insecurities or selfishness, may be stopping us at least considering a “Yes.” Releasing our money for purposes beyond ourselves may well cause a moment of resistance. Commit to examining this a bit closer.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean to say I trust God?

Share in your small group times God has provided. Encourage each other.

Practice going beyond a knee-jerk “No” reaction and Engage the Resistance.

Prayer
Gracious Father, you know the things in my life that cause stress and anxiety. Help me to bring these to you and choose to trust you in them. Please help me to examine stumbling blocks to trusting you more fully, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4  – The Wesley Way

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6: 25-34

John Wesley, preacher, and founder of the Methodist movement grew up in crippling poverty. His Father was an Anglican priest in a low-paying parish and was rarely out of debt. Entering the ministry also, John initially taught at Oxford University earning a good wage, and lived in relative prosperity. However, over time as his heart was moved by the poverty around him he began to limit his expenses. From his 30 pound income he lived on 28, giving away 2. The next year his income doubled but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so had 32 to give to the poor. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving. By the time his income had risen to a little over 1400 pounds he lived on 30 so was able to give away over 1300 pounds. The philosophy he taught may surprise some: Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.

Earn all you can – work that is profitable is to be pursued, but not at the expense of our health, our mind, or hurt to another.

Save all you can – not greedy accumulation for yourself, but rather to live modestly and carefully so as to have more to benefit others less fortunate.

Give all you can  – as much as possible, do good to the household of faith, then to all who are in need.

“I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might! No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand! No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has trusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of “the wisdom of the just.” Give all ye have, all well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to Him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son: So “laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come that ye may attain eternal life!”

Question to Consider
How do I assess my attitude to money according to Wesley’s three statements?

Prayer
Loving Father, speak to me about how to earn, save and give. May I be open to hear your voice and ready to obey, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Play Your Part

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica concerned that some people, expecting Jesus to return any day, had given up work and were not being productive members of the community. He was critical of their idleness, relying on others in the community to support them. Idleness in turn led to sticking their noses in the affairs of others. Paul isn’t talking here about those who, for whatever reason, are not able to work, but rather people who refuse to work.

NT Wright commenting on this passage says that Paul is calling each person not to step out of line. He sees it rather like a beautiful dance routine where each dancer plays their part, keeping in time and participating in the choreography that results in a spectacular performance. Yet it only takes one or two to step out of line, fail to play their part, and the whole is spoilt.

Paul commends hard work, and more than that he points to his own example of not relying on the resources of others to provide for his needs. Throughout his ministry years Paul worked at his trade, tent making. The word he repeatedly uses for those not playing their part means ‘to play truant’; in other words running away from your responsibilities. There were also consequences for not being an active, committed, contributing member of the church. Viewing the church as a ‘body’ Paul knew that the health and effectiveness of the whole relied on the cooperation of all the members. As the believers pulled together, each playing their part, sharing resources, nobody missed out (Acts 4:32). And the result was a visible message that spoke to the society surrounding them.

Questions to Consider
Does this passage show the value and worth of hard work?

Am I tempted to undervalue my contribution, seeing it as not important?

In what ways is a faith community greater than the sum of its parts?

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you that you call me to play my part, using the gifts and abilities and energy that come from you. Guide us in working together in ways that benefit others, and that witness to your love and generosity to us, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Advent Calendar Photoshoot Props

We are already planning our 2016 Advent Calendar – it’s only 6 months until Christmas! There are some props we’ll be needing for our photoshoot – is there anything you could lend or help us find?

If so, please contact Erin ewhite@swbc.org.nz by June 7.

We’re looking for…

·         Angel wings

·         Child’s armour – preferably gold

·         Swandri jackets

·         Bush shirts

·         Fairy lights – warm yellow

·         Telescope

·         Green shag pile rug

·         Large soft toy farm animals

·         Toy sheep

·         World globe

We’d really appreciate your help!

Money – Poverty & Wealth

Readings for this week May 30 – June 3
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Money Booklet cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 – Neither Poverty Nor Riches

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Proverbs 30:7-9

One of the most stark, undeniable facts of the world today is the huge disparity between the rich and the poor, and, even more troubling than this, the fact that the gap between the two is growing – and at a faster rate than at any time in recorded history. In 2015 Credit Suisse reported that the most wealthy 1% of our world’s population hold 50% of the world’s assets – that is, they have more than the remaining 99%. And the poorest 50% hold only 1% of the world’s wealth.

How are we meant to live in this world? As followers of Jesus we must face this issue head on. In Christian history there have been two main responses to the issue of wealth and poverty. Prosperity teaching, quite common today, says that God wants everyone to be wealthy. Material comfort is considered a sign of God’s blessing. The opposite teaching is that wealth is bad and poverty is considered preferable by God. The Bible teaches neither of these extremes. It warns that wealth is dangerous because when we have plenty we can forget both God and the poor. The Bible also teaches that poverty traps people in dehumanising relationships, suffering and sin, none of which are God’s plan.

As Jesus’ followers we must walk a narrow road between the dangers of seeing possessions as evil on one hand and accumulating stuff on the other. God wants us to trust him, be content, and give when people are in need. He wants us to live simply and generously. When simplicity and generosity are held together then we are free to share a life of equality and celebration.

Question to Consider
What are some practical ways you can be more generous to those in need through the next week?

Prayer
Lord God, asking “neither poverty” is easy; asking “nor riches” is hard. Forgive me the sin of chasing wealth and comfort over obedience to you, and your call to stand with the poor. Make my life more of a battleground for the fight against inequality in your world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Jesus at the Centre

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

The interesting thing is not that Paul has put Jesus Christ at the centre of this whole passage (8:1-15, covering today’s and tomorrow’s reading); this is par for the course for Paul – the incarnation, including the death and resurrection of Jesus, is at the centre of everything for him. The really interesting thing is that Paul has put Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection at the centre of this exposition on money and giving.

It may be set out in more detail in other places, it may be expressed more poetically in, for example, Philippians 2:6-11, but in one verse in this passage in a very tough letter to the Corinthian church, Paul places Jesus at the centre of his thought on this most practical of topics: money, more specifically, the collection. Not in the middle of a huge theological treatise on the nature of God, nor as part of a rumination on the nature of the incarnation, but in the middle of this most down-to-earth, practical topic. God took on human form to became one of us – becoming ‘poor’ – taking on the sheer messiness of ordinary life with all its practical details.

“Jesus with all the ‘riches’ of his life in the glorious mystery of God’s inner being, became ‘poor’, both in the sense that becoming human was an astonishingly humbling thing and in the sense that the human life he took on was not royal, rich and splendid in the world’s terms but instead poor, humble and eventually shameful. Paul has modelled his entire life and work on this Jesus, and he longs, throughout this letter, that the Corinthians will do so as well.” (N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, p.90). May we, in following our Lord, do so too.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean to you to become poor for the sake of others? How are you doing this?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for humbling yourself and becoming one of us, becoming ‘poor’ in order to bring us back to you. May I also be humble and giving of myself in order to bring others back to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Goal is Equality

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 2 Corinthians 8:10-15

The Corinthians had initially been highly enthusiastic about the collection for the Jerusalem church, but for a multitude of reasons their enthusiasm had waned. Paul is exhorting them to finish the work they had begun. And he encourages them with what should be one of the key motivators for their giving: Paul writes that “the goal is equality.” In times of plenty those who are well provided for are to provide for others, so that when their time of need comes, provision can also be made for them.

This may seem cold and calculating but it is not. It is an acknowledgement of God’s sovereign rule and his provision for his people. As verses 14 and 15 say, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need….The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” God’s provision is for all. His will is for the health and well-being of all people. Those who have much, whoever they are, are to be thankful for what they have and are to share it with those who have little, whoever they are, so that none may suffer or go hungry. It is about equality.

As followers of Jesus we should be working – we need to be working – to make the world a more equal place for all to live. We cannot blithely accept the riches of this world that we enjoy as some sort of automatic blessing from God, when these same riches are so often made possible by the economic, cultural and social exploitation of the vulnerable and the defenceless and the poor of this world. This is not the way of Christ.

Questions to Consider
How are our lifestyles actually making things more unequal? What changes can you make, big and small, to show you are following Jesus’ call for equality for all?

Prayer
Lord God, show me the big and small things in my life and in my heart that contribute to the world’s inequality so that I might, with the help of your Spirit, change into a follower who truly lives out your call to love others and strive for equality. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Widow’s Offering

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 21:1-4

This passage is not a glorification of poverty, nor is it a condemnation of wealth. It is not condoning the religiously motivated exploitation of the poor, nor is it impugning the motives of the wealthy who may wish to contribute to God’s kingdom. Rich and poor alike give to the kingdom of God. Jesus does not condemn the rich, nor does he praise poverty. He praises the faithful obedience of a poor widow giving what she has.

The idea that the worth of either the gift given or of the one giving the gift is based on their material circumstances is an easy one for people to subscribe to – especially in a culture like ours that has everything. How many of us see our worth – more particularly the worth we think we have in the eyes of God (and others) – defined by our wealth or lack thereof? Not only that, how many of us view everyone’s worth as a function of their material prosperity? The fact that Jesus makes a comment on the widow’s offering suggests he may have spoken in part as a rebuke to people’s unspoken judgement against the widow. Because the widow had no wealth, she had no worth – maybe people were thinking that.

And yet what she gave was worth more than all those who had given out of their wealth. The widow’s heart was centred on God and on honouring and obeying him, no matter what her situation. Jesus’ comment suggests that God is not a heavenly accountant; he is not just seeing with an outward eye that totals up the amount given, then making a mark in his heavenly ledger. He is weighing up our motives, our inward stance, and our heart for him and his people. All of us have a place. All of us can give deeply, regardless of our wealth or poverty.

Questions to Consider
How is our worth and the worth of others tied up in our money and possessions? What can we do to counter this tendency?

Prayer
Almighty God, help me grow in obedience to you, no matter what my circumstances. Help me be more charitable in thought and in deed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Giving to All

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 6:27-38

It is easy for us to go through life concerned about how we can get ahead. It is perhaps the key thing our society is trying to tell us, the main way it tries to mould us and shape us as individuals. “Look out for number one.” “Make sure you get your share of the pie.” We think we have to get our money’s worth or that we have to make sure we don’t get a raw deal. We ask what’s in it for us.

God’s way is the opposite. He wants us to be generous. Jesus quite simply tells us to give. Let’s not get picky about it, trying to figure out who we should give to, under what circumstances, and inventing rules about how much we should give. It’s not about whether we have a lot or a little. Everything we have is God’s and he tells us to be generous with it. Jesus gave no specifics about what we give—food, money or resources—just that we are to give.

And giving is a good thing, a Godly thing, something that the followers of Jesus are called to do. But there comes a point when giving is not enough – when what we are called to give is more than just money and possessions. Jesus calls us to give not just things or money to the poor, but to give ourselves as well. To be a community of the poor, not just for the poor. We find Jesus in each other and that requires us to build relationships with those around us, especially those in need. We give because we have been called to give, not because there is anything special or superior about us. We too are damaged people. To join with people in need is to enter into a mutual relationship that displays the love of Jesus and changes all those involved.

Questions to Consider
What are the things that hold us back from giving to others? Can you think how our giving can keep people at arm’s length from us?

Prayer
Holy Lord, you have given me much that I may share with others. Help me share the resources and gifts that you have given me, but also the gift of myself. May I offer myself freely to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)