Mark 4

Readings for this week September 16 – 20
Click here for a pdf of this week’s reading

Day 1 – Prepare Your Ears to Hear

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:1-3

“Now hear this! Now hear this!” Something important is on the way; an important message is about to be delivered, so ears open and pay attention people! This is what Jesus is saying to the crowd; the addition of “Let him who has ears hear!” later on in verse 9 offers a post-parable reinforcement of this point. He wants their attention and so he grabs it – and then seems to let it go straight away with a very boring, commonplace opening line: a farmer went out to sow. But this rhetorical strategy is designed to hook his audience in even more. By commanding their attention and then offering such a plain beginning, Jesus creates the suspicion that there must be more here than there at first appears to be, just like in a riddle or a paradox.

But once our attention is engaged, where are we meant to focus it? What are we meant to look at, question, interpret, ponder? There are three main things that people have focused attention on to varying degrees over the millennia that this parable has been read and wrestled with: the sower, the seed, and the harvest. To focus on the sower is to look at Jesus’ role as revealer of the kingdom, the one whose ministry leads to an incredibly bountiful harvest. Or if we focus on the seeds we see the perennial rigours and risks of sowing: birds, rocky ground, thorns and weeds. And then there is the harvest, the end product of the sowing, measured in terms of the ratio of seed to crop yield.  A parable is a short story, yes; but short doesn’t mean simple or one note. Even in such a brief tale, there is much that Jesus would say to his audience. Let those with ears hear.

Questions to Consider
What do you notice in this parable? What draws your attention? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, give me ears to hear and eyes to see. Guide me into wisdom, show me who you are and who I am in you and the part I have to play in the harvest. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Getting Our Heads Around the Parables

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:4-9

Have we become immune to the parables? Have they become so familiar to us that whatever bite, whatever edge they originally had, whatever deep ruminations they were designed to engender in their hearers’ minds, has long since been blunted by repetition? We are so familiar with the stories and images and characters, and so easily come to what we think the point is meant to be, that it sometimes seems hard to believe that they often caused deep offence – and perplexity – to Jesus’ audience. The parables are short tales, drawn from everyday life and experience, often with a sting in the tail. But 2000 years’ distance can sometimes leave us missing the more subtle effects, and walking away from the parable with so much left uncovered.

For example, our first thought about the sower might be, “What a wasteful, uninformed idiot.” He doesn’t plough his field in preparation for the planting of seeds, he just seems to chuck seed randomly all over the place, some on the field (but almost by accident really), some by the path, other seeds on the rocks. But this was the nature of sowing in that particular time and place; this was how the farmers distributed their seed, sowing first and then ploughing the field, hence why the seed falls in places we wouldn’t expect. And what are we to make of the fact that after the first line of the parable, the sower is not mentioned again? The parables pull at our minds, stretching them, taking us down paths of thought we might not otherwise travel – if we will take the time to let them.

Question to Consider
What does this parable tell us about God and his coming kingdom?

Prayer
Almighty God, give me fresh eyes to see anew each day what your word reveals about you and about your plan for this world. Enlighten me again so that my life may be a blessing for others the world over. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – “There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:10-14

Bearing in mind what we said previously about the nature of parables, it seems paradoxical to think that Jesus deliberately spoke in parables so that certain parts of his audience would not understand what he was saying. And yet, unlike his other parables, Jesus felt the need to offer his disciples an interpretation of what he had said, an interpretation that reveals the hidden, mysterious nature of the kingdom of God. We like to think that we are on the ‘inside’, that we are the chosen ones who understand exactly what he means, privy to what Jesus is saying and doing in a way that others aren’t. We know the disciples sometimes felt this way too – their arguments over who was the greatest are testament to the fact that insider status was initially very important to them. Is it the same for us too?

“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” We all want to be like the disciples, part of the ‘in’ crowd. And yet Jesus’ statement is immediately contradicted by his question in verse 13 about whether the disciples understand this parable, or any parable – so maybe they don’t really get it after all! The kingdom remains hidden, veiled, and mysterious – for everyone, inside and out. Without Jesus, true understanding of the kingdom eludes us and entry to the kingdom is impossible. Mystery abounds: yes, Jesus was God’s agent in bringing the kingdom to us. But the fullness of the kingdom is, at this moment, a case of ‘not yet.’ Even as his followers we must remain watchful, alert, open to the mysterious promptings, nudgings and leadings of the Holy Spirit, never for a moment thinking that we’ve got it all mapped out ahead of us and that we know everything there is to know.  There is always more of God to experience.

Questions to Consider
What stopped the disciples understanding Jesus? What stops us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, forgive my complacency and arrogance; forgive me when I stop chasing after you and settle for ‘what I have always known and done’ Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Mystery of Hope

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:15-20

This parable of the sower is above all a parable about the mystery of hope, and how acting on that (often hidden) hope requires us to trust in the faithfulness and providence of God. Jesus, as agent of the kingdom, assures us, if we will hear, that the gospel will be heard, God’s will shall be done and the harvest will come. The fulfilment of the kingdom of God is as mysterious as an abundant harvest. It is a mystery for us because we see so much seed seemingly going to waste, disappearing in wasteful fruitlessness. Poverty is evident all around the globe; hatred and violence reign unopposed; relational fragmentation and environmental destruction are in the ascendant. The evidence of seemingly wasted seeds and fruitless soil is everywhere.

As followers of Jesus the parable is not so much calling us to be good soil (though there is certainly nothing wrong with that and I certainly would not discourage it); we already have the gospel implanted in us and are hopefully already living faithful, fruitful kingdom lives. What the parable is encouraging us to do is live confidently in faith that the scattered seed, despite all the signs to the contrary around us, will bear fruit and the harvest will come – somehow, mysteriously, despite the signs of failure around us, a bountiful kingdom harvest will eventuate. This is not to say that we need do nothing, that we can sit back and just wait for the harvest to come. We are God’s workers in the field, working in partnership with the sower, who guarantees the harvest. The kingdom, now veiled, will one day be triumphant, of that we can be assured.

Questions to Consider
How do we live in hope? What does this look like in today’s world?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the hope of the world, the one who holds all things in your hands, the one who will bring all creation back to fullness and wholeness. Remind me when I forget. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Light That Reveals All

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:21-25

What is the basis for the hope and trust we are called to have that the kingdom will come in all its fullness, that the harvest will be plentiful, and that God will reign supreme? Mark reminds us that the answer is Jesus, the one who embodies the light of God’s truth and reign. Jesus is the light and his coming confirms that God has begun the process of dispelling the darkness that surrounds us and seems to be threatening to overwhelm us. The purpose of a lamp is to give light; the purpose of Jesus coming was to bring light to the world – the light that reveals and brings to light that which is currently hidden – namely, God’s mercy and judgement.

Secrets will be brought into the light and revealed, both the secret, ultimately unstoppable purposes of God and the secret sins of the wicked. God is sovereign and he still reigns, even despite the darkness surrounding us. The light of the Son has shone forth, and continues to shine still, revealing how we have measured out our lives – and therefore revealing how judgement will be measured out to us: the fair treated fairly, the just justly, the scornful treated with scorn. God is already at work in the world, and the principles of the kingdom, though hidden, determine what the ultimate consequences of the way we live our lives and the choices that we make will be. Those who strive to be light for others will be enlightened themselves; those who scurry for the darkness will get their wish, in full. The light has come; how will we live in this new reality?

Questions to Consider
How is Jesus the light? How are you the light for others?

Prayer
Loving Father, so many live in darkness, unaware of the light. Help me share your light with others: the poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless, those pushed into the darkness by others. May your light reveal their plight and all that causes it. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Global Week continued

Readings for this week September 9 – 13
Click here for a pdf of this week’s reading

Day 1 – Our Different Mission Labels

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 16:15

Why do we divide up ‘mission’? Why is there local mission, global mission, overseas mission, urban mission, etc.? Why do we have these different descriptors for the one activity of God? Why use the term global mission? Well, firstly, it reminds us that God’s love is for all people, all across the globe, no matter who they are, where they are, what nation, culture, religion or group they belong to or identify with. Every human being is the object of God’s love and so every human being is to be offered the chance to accept that love by encountering it through us.

Secondly, the label contains the truth of the tightly knit interconnections that now bind the far-flung corners of the globe together. Transport and telecommunications technologies now let us know about, connect with and get to people and places far easier and more immediately than before. They allow what happens in one – or many – place in the world to have far greater impact on many – or all – other parts of the world at a faster pace than previously. Economic interconnection, biological disaster, environmental despoliation – global mission reminds us of the greater connections, both positive and negative, that our modern globe-spanning village now has. Both points remind us that in our everyday lives as God’s servants, we need to look up, look around, and take a wider perspective on where we are and what we are doing, to account for our actions’ impact on those near us and also far from us, and to make sure that there is no one, no group, no place, that is excluded from God’s gracious love.

Questions to Consider
What does Global Mission mean to you? What strikes you about the term?

Prayer
Loving Father, I am part of a global family that you love and are Lord over. Help me always keep in mind my brothers and sisters in this human family as I seek to share your gracious love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Global Mission Needs Local Mission

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:16-20

Local missions, global missions; the needs on our own doorstep versus the obvious suffering of the wider world. How do we balance the two? This isn’t a new discussion. But here are some thoughts from Pastor and author David Mathis as we reflect on what God calls us to:

A healthy and productive home church, one that is engaged in a desire to see its local area transformed, sets up a great platform for sending people to other nations. It gives a needed credibility to both the message and the messengers. An established credibility speaks to the unreached people we seek to serve and also boosts the confidence and dreams of those who go. We know the difference Jesus makes in our community and we long to offer this to your community.

Local mission provides resources for global mission. Winning people to Christ, discipling and training them is essential to inspiring a new generation of missionaries willing to be sent. Both financial and personnel resources begin with healthy local mission.

Training and Experience. Good principles and theology learnt at home will prove invaluable when heading overseas. Issues of faith and practice wrestled within your own environment help the process of contextualising the gospel in a new culture and setting.

Questions to Consider
How might understanding my own ‘culture’ help in dealing with a different culture? Do I even recognise the challenges of my own culture?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, Thank you that you are not an either/or God but so often a both/and God, making room for all people, multiple gifts, and endless opportunities, wherever they are, however they serve. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Local Mission Needs Global MIssion

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Acts 1:1-8

Authenticity counts. If the message of Jesus is good news worthy of taking global, it authenticates the message of our local work. The gospel is not just for us, our city, our culture, but is good news for people everywhere. In other words, Jesus is not a local deity. God’s unparalleled glory and honour is revealed in the praise and worship of every tribe, every tongue, every people; he is the hope of all the nations. It is this God, Creator and Redeemer that we call people to know in local mission, not just the God of our small locality. Global mission endorses that we have something worth exporting.

Expanding our perspective. Sending churches not only offer help, but need help. We need to recognise the wisdom learnt by those who have wrestled with taking the gospel across cultures. It is all too easy to develop blind spots within our own culture. We need to listen to our missionaries and accept their help in evaluating and reforming our own local ministry practices. In an increasing Post-Christian Western culture local mission can learn from the perspective global mission provides. ‘Acquiescing to “That’s not the way we’ve always done it” will signal decline in our churches, but “I think there’s something we can learn here” is the sound of doors being opened to new possibilities for gospel flourishing’ -D Mathis.

Global is the confirmation of Local. Having a heart for and sending people cross-culturally is the flourishing of local work. It is a sign of healthy maturity. It does not at all mean the work at home is done, but it does point to a healthy outward focus and concern for the other. Conversely, a lack of interest in reaching beyond our borders signals an insular, blinkered or even sick church culture. The gospel is too large to be hoarded; it demands a hearing in every corner of our neighbourhoods and to every people group on the planet.

Questions to Consider
Is there tension between local and global mission? Is there a danger in letting a focus on one be a cop-out of ignoring the other? How do we avoid this?

Prayer
Loving Father, teach us to truly value the good news that is for all people. Help us be open to learn from others, and be quick to respond to your promptings. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Social Justice or Evangelism? Or Just Plain Love?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Micah 6:8

“The church has been addressing matters of mission and justice ever since Pentecost….But having witnessed the many horrors of the 20th century, [John] Stott also wrestled with the question of evangelism and social action. And what he concluded has much to say to us in the 21st century. In short, Stott believed both sides of the controversy were in error.

In Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP, 1975), Stott argues that most people try to make social justice either superior or subordinate to evangelism. The superior position diminishes the importance of calling people to be reconciled to God through Christ—something Stott found utterly incongruent with the New Testament. The subordinate position, however, he saw as equally untenable. It made social action into a PR device; a way to win favour in order to lead to conversions, a mere means to an end. Stott wrote: “In its most blatant form this makes social work the sugar on the pill, the bait on the hook, while in its best forms it gives the gospel credibility it would otherwise lack. In either case the smell of hypocrisy hangs round our philanthropy.”

Stott recognized that forcing every facet of the Christian life to fit into a mission/evangelism framework was untenable, and asking whether evangelism or justice is more important was to miss the point entirely. Instead he concluded that social justice and evangelism “belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself.”

Therefore, according to Stott, our participation in social action is not fueled by a missional imperative, evangelistic pragmatism, or even theological certitude, “but rather simple, uncomplicated compassion. Love has no need to justify itself.””

Adapted from “Love Needs No Justification,” by Skye Jethani, Christianity Today.

Questions to Consider
How do you see the connection between salvation and social justice? What happens when we unbalance the two?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help us serve others with great love, whatever the circumstances. All people are created in your image; may we image your love to us to everyone we meet. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Reflection on Global Mission

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Hebrews 13:20-21

What has God been saying to you over the period of Global Week this year? What will you do about it?

How is what you do missionally in your local context connected to what God is doing globally?

Of the work South West Baptist Church is involved in globally, and of the people – workers, missionaries and otherwise – that we are supporting and partnering with overseas, who and what are you connected with? Who and what are you actively supporting? How?

What change will you make this year to more deeply connect with God’s global mission?

How has God been bringing your daily life and work more in line with his mission to the world?

How is your daily life in your neighbourhood lived in solidarity with the global poor?

What could you do to show greater solidarity with the poor of the world?

How will you contribute to the global work of South West Baptist Church over the next twelve months?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, make me an ambassador of your love to the whole world. You have a plan for me and a place for me, and wherever that place is and whatever your plan for my life involves, may my life be one lived in the service of your kingdom, for the benefit of the poor, lost and alone. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Global Week

Readings for this week September 2 – 6
Click here for a pdf of this week’s reading

Day 1 – A Love For All the World

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Hosea 2:23

It is in some ways particularly apt that we enter a time of focusing on Global Missions immediately after having journeyed through the book of Jonah. One thing the book does very explicitly is show that, while God may have designated the Israelites as his chosen people and is therefore the God of the Israelites, nevertheless God is still the God for everyone. Though the prophet Jonah himself was reluctant to obey God’s command to go the Ninevites and was personally more interested in witnessing their destruction than celebrating their redemption, that fact that God called him to go to a pagan people and proclaim his word and his judgement in the hope that they might repent is significant.

The original call to Abraham was a call ultimately designed to benefit the whole world. Abraham was blessed so that he could then be a blessing to others – those ‘others’ being everybody else in the rest of creation! Right at the start of the call to Israel was the expectation that it was a call designed to be shared with others, that God was a God to be shared with others, something that unfortunately was often forgotten by the Israelites. And yet significant passages of the Hebrew Bible – for example Jonah, but also large sections of Isaiah, the prophet Hosea, not to mention the testimony scattered throughout other prophets and the Psalms – exist as a reminder that God’s aim was to bring all people back to himself and to shelter all nations under his wing. That was true then, and remains true for us, called just as Jonah was, to take God’s love to all the world.

Questions to Consider
What stops you sharing God with others? What can you do about it?

Prayer
Lord God, may I never keep you for myself or think of others being unworthy of knowing you. Your son Jesus was a ‘yes’ to us all; help me share that yes with all others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Mission is God’s

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 3:16-17

The deepest source of mission is the heart of God himself. That is where mission – all mission, local, global, mission of any and all types, whatever name we decide to give it – originates from. Mission is the work of the Triune God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier – undertaken for the sake of the world, for the purposes of drawing humankind and all of creation back into their rightful, ordained place within the embrace of God’s love. Mission originates with God, not with us. Mission is not a creation of the church, but rather the church is the instrument God sends in order to share his love with the world. Mission is a movement from God to the world, a movement in which the church is an instrument of that movement, and of God’s love. When we participate in mission, we are participating in the movement of God’s love – and there is no other source of love – towards the world.

Whatever else it is that we think we’re doing, or trying to achieve; whether we see ourselves as bringing salvation to people or as growing the community of God’s people; as pointing to the signs of the coming kingdom or as helping bring justice to the oppressed; as acting on behalf of the world’s poor or speaking out in defence of God’s ravaged earth – all of these things stem firstly from the missional activity of God himself. The tasks that we undertake are not of our own invention. Rather, all mission is derived from the very nature of God himself.

Questions to Consider
What do you dream of God doing in the world? What do you dream of him doing through you?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me be a pathway for your power and love into the lives of others. Nothing is too great for you – help me remember that the mission and the love and the power begin with you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Poor and the ‘Non-Poor’

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Proverbs 14:31

Sadly, as the material wealth of western Christians increased, so did their tendency to view the bible’s sayings on poverty only metaphorically. The poor became “the poor in spirit”, those who recognised their utter dependence on God, the necessary start of a relationship with God, yes, but not one meant to replace the literal meaning – and lived reality – of the poor of the world. This literal meaning was eclipsed by the fact that the ‘non-poor’ could now also see themselves as poor, and so the rich claimed these biblical promises for themselves. The true poor faded from view.

But in the second half of the 20th century Catholic theology in particular began to articulate what was called termed “God’s preferential option for the poor.” ‘Option’ does not mean optional and ‘preferential’ denies the exclusiveness of the term: the poor are the first, but not the only people, that God’s attention is focused on, and so therefore the church has no choice, if it to remain true to God, but to demonstrate solidarity with the poor. Of course there are still dangers to avoid. If we begin to think of the church for others rather than the church with others; the church for the poor rather than the church of the poor; the poor needing the church rather than the church needing the poor in order to stay faithful to the call of Jesus; if we fail to repent of our complicity in the oppression of the poor or cast down the idols of money, power, race and self-interest – then we are failing our Lord’s call to truly live in solidarity with the poor.

Questions to Consider
In what ways do the non-poor of the world appropriate God’s promises to the poor for themselves? How can we avoid doing this?

Prayer
Lord God, forgive my presumption and arrogance. Teach me humility and compassion so I can be true child of your grace for others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Where the Spirit Speaks and Acts

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 10:36-39

To keep at the forefronts of our lives that it is ultimately God’s mission and not ours, we need to continually remind ourselves of what Jesus said and did. If we overemphasise the idea of mission as the church’s mandate, then the temptation is to see what we do as a ‘work’ – even if a good one – and to see ourselves as justified to the extent that we are doing this work. We see our contribution as the most important one; we see unbelievers as perishing unless we do something to save them. We end up relying on our own efforts and ideas, at the same time as thinking that these efforts are what makes us acceptable to God.

But the New Testament shows us otherwise. Time and again we see Jesus telling people that he is doing the work of his Father. He does what he sees his Father doing, and the words he speaks are the words of his Father too. His teaching is his Father’s teaching and the miracles and mighty works that people see him performing are the works of God’s Spirit. Even Jesus ascribes all that he is doing to his Father. It is to be the same with us. The Spirit will give us power and will bear witness through us, if we are faithful and make ourselves available to be conduits for God’s love to others. Yes, we can ask the Spirit for inspiration and guidance, but even more than this, if we are faithful to Jesus, then we will become the place where the Spirit speaks and acts.

Question to Consider
How are you aware of the Holy Spirit strengthening you, uniting you with others and enabling you to follow where he leads?

Prayer
Almighty Father, may my faithfulness match your faithfulness to me, so that I can be a place where your Spirit speaks and acts into the lives of all those I come across. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Worship as Reflective of the Whole Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 1:10-17

A very significant theme of prophetic tradition in the Old Testament is one that talks of correct, “acceptable” worship activities as relatively unimportant when compared with matters of social justice and fairness and care of the poor. As Isaiah shows here, Israel’s worship (including her sacrifices, her festivals, her gatherings – all the things mandated in the Torah as pleasing worship practices to be performed by God’s people) is judged unacceptable to God when offered in place of, or without due attention to, compassion and justice for those in need.

The practice of justice towards our fellow God-created human beings is not incidental to our faithfulness to God: it is the concrete demonstration of it. Any claim to worship God is dead and empty if it is not backed up with a life of action lived in the cause of justice for others. Our allegiance to God is only truly shown if it is enacted on behalf of those who suffer oppression, neglect, poverty and injustice. The link between worship of God and care of neighbour is so strong that Isaiah, on behalf of God, proclaims to the Israelites that doing justice, caring for the poor, oppressed and marginalised in particular, is a more pleasing and honest and acceptable act of worship than all the sacrifices and songs that they have offered him. The same is true for us. If we are true followers of God and truly worship him, it will be shown – must be shown – in the pattern of our whole life.

Questions to Consider
How is your life an act of worship and an act of compassion for others? Why does God link worship and compassion for others so closely?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, help me make my whole life – every act, every word – an acceptable act of worship to you. May my entire life be lived as an act of compassion for others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Jonah 4

Readings for this week August 26 – 30
Click here for a pdf of this week’s reading

Day 1 – Lost in Translation

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:1

Something always gets lost in translation, no matter how scrupulously careful we are in carrying meanings, idioms and cultural descriptions across from one language to another. Jonah 4:1 is a good example of this, as we learn that Jonah considers God’s compassion shown to Nineveh to be wrong. Many translations use the words displeased and angry. These words really do sell the original Hebrew short and don’t give us a true sense of what Jonah really thinks about God’s actions. The Hebrew word we translate as “displeased” (or equivalent) actually implies evil or wickedness; that rendered by “angry” comes from a word that means “to glow hot”. In other words, Jonah considered what God did in letting Nineveh off the hook to be evil and thus Jonah’s anger burned within him.

The Ninevites were wicked; even God had said as much back in chapter 1. They deserved to be punished. But if God can have compassion on them and spare them from his wrath, then theoretically God could have compassion on anyone and everyone who repents and turns back to him, no matter who they are and what they have done. For Jonah it’s obvious: God is forgiving the wrong kind of people. Hence Jonah’s deep anger at what God has done and why he judged what God had done as “evil”. God was letting the wrong people in. Jonah’s hunger for God’s righteous judgement to be poured out on Nineveh had blinded him to God’s love and mercy, even though that love and mercy had previously been extended to him. Jonah either couldn’t see that, or thought of himself as one of the “right” people and others “wrong”.

Questions to Consider
What was wrong with Jonah’s anger? What sets your anger off?

Prayer
Lord God, I need your eyes and heart to see people the way you do and to love them the way you do. Give me chances to do so this week. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Bit of an Over-Exaggeration

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:2-3

Much like a Premier League footballer writhing around on the ground in agony trying to create a penalty out of thin air, as if someone had just stuck a knife in them when in reality everyone could see that no contact took place, Jonah’s prayer makes him look like an idiot. He admits to God that the reason he fled in the first place was that he knew God was compassionate and merciful and would probably pardon the Ninevites (which suggests he does actually know what God’s character is like but nevertheless doesn’t like it when God is nice to others). He therefore asks God to end his life now.

Jonah is not the first biblical character to ask God to do this. But his reasons pale in comparison with others before him who have so petitioned God. Job famously demanded that God end his life due to the extreme pain, loss and grief he had experienced, as well as God’s failure to answer his questioning laments. The prophet Jeremiah sought death due to everything he was forced to endure at a time when the nation did not want to hear what he had to say. And Samson asked that God bless him with one last, fatal show of strength to avenge himself on the Philistines. Whereas Jonah was just in a sulk because he disagreed with the mercy God had shown to others. Jonah knows God’s character, but has not allowed the character of his God to grow and develop in him. He is not interested in fulfilling God’s purposes, only in God fulfilling his (Jonah’s) wishes.

Question to Consider
What do you think of Jonah’s request to God?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, forgive my petulance and crankiness, and the way I can so easily make everything about me. It is about you, your son and the gospel of good news for all. Help me always see the bigger picture. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Getting it Right or Getting it Wrong

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:4-5

Some regard the book of Jonah as a comedic tale, a comedy depicting the struggle between the divine and the human, between what God wants to achieve and what human beings would rather have happen. (Perhaps it could also be a farce.) Jonah tries to thwart God’s purposes, but God still wins. Jonah gets angry and sulks, but ends up changing nothing. Jonah storming out of the city to wait and see what happens almost seems to be the equivalent of the screaming baby throwing all its toys out of the cot. Jonah knows God has already forgiven the people of Nineveh, and yet he still thinks maybe he can force him to change his mind. The building of a booth outside the city suggests that Jonah is actually determined to settle in for a while and try and wait God out – the prophet who avoided going to Nineveh for so long now doesn’t want to leave!

When we have got it wrong, and realise that we have missed God’s purposes and have been rebuked and embarrassed into the realisation that we have fallen from the path God set for us, what do we do? How do we react? Do we sulk like Jonah, and cling stubbornly to our pride, insisting that we know better than God? Do we burn with anger, determined to bend God to our will rather than admit we got it wrong? Or do we humbly – and perhaps tearfully – return to our God, admitting our failure, hoping to receive the compassion that we know God is so willing to dispense?

Questions to Consider
What is your experience of God taking you back when you have erred? How did it feel? What did God say or do?

Prayer
Gracious Lord, thank you for your mercy and the warm embrace that awaits me even though I stray and fall away from you. You do not give up on me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Literally: He Asked His Life to Die

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:6-10

While Jonah waits, God acts, this time in several ways that directly affect Jonah as he waits to see what will happen to the city and its inhabitants. God provides a plant to provide some shade for Jonah. Although many commentators believe this plant to have been a castor bean plant because of the large leaves usually associated with this plant and the fact that it can grow prodigiously fast, we don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that briefly, ever so briefly, Jonah is happy, joyful, pleased with something that God has done. But then comes the worm that destroys the plant and with it Jonah’s happiness, and then, once the plant is gone and Jonah is at the mercy of the elements again, a burning east wind comes to torment him. From anger to joy and back to anger again: Jonah has gone full circle.

Jonah’s response is to wish that he was dead. He ignores God altogether, no longer asking him to end his life but simply wishing that he was dead, as if he wants nothing more to do with the God who seems to be tormenting him. Yet the same God who now seems (to Jonah) to be needlessly toying with him is the same God who provided the fish to rescue Jonah from certain death in the sea. It seems that Jonah still has much to learn about the ways of God, and still seems incapable of seeing the broader picture. He is, sadly, stubborn, yet perhaps he is now in a place where he is ready to heed God’s lesson. Maybe…

Questions to Consider
What do you think it would have taken for Jonah to open himself up to God and what God was trying to tell him?

Prayer
Heavenly Lord, please be patient with my stubbornness and forgive me when I am slow to follow or understand. Thank you for loving me enough to stay close even when I wander away from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Real Hero

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:11

The book is named for Jonah, a prophet of God. But as mentioned in an earlier reading, Jonah is not the hero of the book. He is, when looked at closely, a rather sad, pathetic, ridiculous figure. He runs away from God’s commission because he knows God is merciful and compassionate; disagrees with this mercy and compassion being shown to sinful pagans; and fails to see the ways in which he himself has been a recipient of this same mercy and compassion. But before we come down too hard on Jonah, we should remember that in many ways we are just the same. We are quick to condemn others, convinced we know better than God in so many situations, and very quick to write people off when they don’t measure up to our standards.

God is the real hero of the book, because of his all-encompassing love and mercy, as showered freely upon the repentant Ninevites, but also because of his forbearance in the face of Jonah’s intransigence and betrayal. God is portrayed as the compassionate sovereign who loves all people, who exercises power over the empires of the world as well as the forces of nature. And yet he is also the God who puts up with Jonah’s recalcitrance, his complaints, his anger – always gently questioning him, giving him space and attempting to nudge him in the right direction. God is loving and patient with Jonah in ways Jonah cannot – or will not – see, no matter what. Will we emulate Jonah, or will we emulate God?

Questions to Consider
What have you learnt during this trip through the book of Jonah? What has God shown you about himself and his world through this book?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for your word and for the story of Jonah. Help me be less like him and more like you in all I do. To all I meet may I offer the love and compassion you shown the Ninevites. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Jonah 3

Readings for this week August 19 – 23
Click here for a pdf of this week’s reading

Day 1 – Take Two

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:1-3

Let’s try that again. Jonah, having failed to deliver the message entrusted to him by God, is now commissioned again by God, to deliver a message of judgement to the Ninevites. This second commission is essentially the same as the first one, but there are two minor changes this time around. There is no mention of Jonah’s father: we, the reader, are starting to develop a bit of a picture of what Jonah is really like as a person – so no need to tell us of his lineage and who he is, as we already know. Also, the word of God came to Jonah “a second time” (v.1) – just in case anyone had forgotten Jonah’s sorry response to the first commissioning.

The message itself is also slightly different. First time out, Jonah was commanded to go and “preach against” Nineveh, and the city’s wickedness was specifically mentioned (see 1 v. 2). This time, Jonah is told to “preach to” Nineveh, and there is no mention of the people’s behaviour, wicked or otherwise. In fact, this time around, the emphasis, rather than being on the city’s wickedness, is on the message of God itself that Jonah is to deliver. And it looks as if Jonah has finally got God’s point, and is actually going to do as he has been told this time: he gets up and he goes. Maybe he has learnt something after all. Maybe, shown mercy himself and entrusted with God’s message a second time, he is about to start behaving as a prophet of God is expected to behave. Maybe…

Questions to Consider
How have you experienced God’s second chance? How did you act second time around? What had changed for you?

Prayer
Lord God, you are merciful, the God of the second chance. Thank you for not giving up on me when I give up on you. Teach me greater faithfulness and loyalty. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Jonah’s Message

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:4

Jonah’s speech to Nineveh, long promised but often delayed, surely ranks as one of the shortest, sharpest declarations in all of scripture. In Hebrew, Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh is just five words long. Short and to the (very spiky) point. Jonah, still the reluctant prophet, looking to get in and out of Nineveh as speedily as possible, essentially does the bare minimum in order to fulfil his commission. He doesn’t offer the city an “if-then” scenario; he doesn’t tell them what must be done to avert the judgement of God; and he offers them no hope of escape at all. God’s verdict is in: destruction in forty days. Job done; can I go home now?

Jonah does not plead with the people to repent, he does not try to get them to change their ways, he does nothing to suggest there is anything at all that they can do to turn God’s wrath away from them. Jonah seems to have delivered his message in a way deliberately designed to ensure the people did not change their minds. The only real conclusion we can draw is that Jonah did not want Nineveh to be saved – he wanted it to be destroyed. No mention of God’s love and mercy, no call to repent and renounce evil ways, no words designed to spur people to action. God had promised to destroy Nineveh and that is what Jonah wanted to see happen. Even after his own experiences of the loving grace and mercy that God had shown to him, he didn’t want to see such love extended to people he considered unworthy of it.

Questions to Consider
What causes an attitude of ingratitude? Why does what happens (or does not happen) to others so often inform whether we ourselves are grateful?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, stir gratitude within me. Show me all the things I should be grateful to you for, in my life and the lives of others. Help me look for reasons to celebrate rather than complain. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – An Immediate Response

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:5

Based on Jonah’s desire to see the Ninevites do nothing in response to his message and thus be wiped off the face of the earth (surely no more than they deserve?), the people’s response to his message was probably deeply disappointing to the prophet. Despite the brevity of his message and the lack of information contained therein, the Ninevites react with decisive speed – and with genuine fear and sorrow. They believed Jonah’s message. They didn’t equivocate, they didn’t argue, they didn’t try to bargain their way out from under the judgement of God. They took responsibility for their sins, even going so far as to don sackcloth to show how repentant they were. (Sackcloth was a piece of clothing worn in times of sorrow, mourning or repentance. It was made of goat’s hair and was generally black in colour.)

It’s not often that the Bible tells of such a positive reaction to a prophecy of impending judgement and destruction. (It is somewhat ironic that such a speedy, positive reception should be given to such a badly, begrudgingly delivered message.) It is also not often that scripture records an idolatrous, pagan people showing such determined resolve to change their ways in response to the word of God. But the people of Nineveh responded immediately, wholeheartedly and contritely. The messenger’s reaction to his message being heeded and the people repenting and seeking God was amazing, but for all the wrong reasons.

Question to Consider
What do you think of Jonah’s reaction? Why do you think he reacted this way?

Prayer
Almighty Lord, help me not to react like Jonah when people turn around and seek you. Help me see all people, no matter their circumstances, as people made in your image and worthy of your love. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Contrasting Choices

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:6-9

People can do everything in their power to show their remorse at their behaviour and to repent for what they have done, but even so they must ultimately rely on God’s mercy to save them. There is nothing they can do to force God’s hand. But as we will see, God responds positively to what the people of Nineveh do. He changes his mind. He has compassion on them. So many times in the Bible God responds to the actions and decisions that people make. He gives us a choice in how we respond to him. Things are not predetermined or preordained, as if we were a part of some stage play where all the lines and stage directions are already determined and laid out in advance, with human beings just going through the motions, with no real choice in what they do.

Once God had called him, Jonah had choices to make (and I would suggest that prior to this story Jonah would also, like all of us, have had choices to make in his life – perhaps what we see of his character in this story hints at the type of choices he had made previously). He chose poorly, making decisions that dishonoured the God who had called him, and that dishonoured himself as an image bearer and messenger of that God. God responded to him accordingly. The Ninevites chose to humble themselves, prostrate themselves before God and throw themselves on his mercy.

Questions to Consider
What choices has God given you to make lately? How do you work out what to do?

Prayer
Almighty God, you can only guide me in all I do if I am listening and seeking to follow you in all I do, and making choices that honour you and what you are calling me to. Help me do this every day. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Not Up to Us

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:10

In many ways the book of Jonah is about opposites – or at least, so much of the story ends up occurring in ways diametrically opposed to how we would expect them to. Jonah is chosen to be a spokesman for God, thus leading us to expect that Jonah is an upright, obedient servant of God. And yet he shows himself to be anything but. Sent in one direction, he takes off in another. He is a prophet who would rather not speak. The Ninevites, on the other hand, are initially marked out for destruction and yet, upon repentance, they end up experiencing the forgiving, gracious compassion of God – and it is God’s chosen messenger who ends up experiencing the judgement of God (and, as we will see next week, who ends up being directly rebuked by God too). And this despite being on the receiving end of God’s saving grace himself in chapter 2.

We don’t get to choose who God delivers, who he judges, who he saves or who he condemns. And we also don’t get to choose how he does each of these things. All too often we rush to judgement, whether in making announcements about whom God can save – and how, and what is required for said people to be saved – or just silently writing people off in our minds as being utterly beyond salvation. But as in the story of Jonah, God is good at ignoring our prejudices and moving in any way he so wishes – for the salvation of all people, whether we approve (which we should, rejoicing all the way) or not.

Questions to Consider
Why do people like to pass judgement (especially eternal judgement) on others? What is dangerous about this? Why is it harmful to the gospel?

Prayer
Loving God, do not ignore my prejudices – and do not let me ignore them – but rather help me overcome them for the benefit of those not yet in your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Jonah 1 – 2

Readings for this week August 12 – 16
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Jonah and the Whale

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 1:1-2

Adam and Eve. David and Goliath. Samson and Delilah. Jonah and the whale. Even in our post-Christian world there are many biblical stories so embedded in our culture that those who have never opened a bible would have at least some knowledge of the story and the characters involved. Most people would be aware of Jonah’s encounter with the whale, and his time spent deep in the belly of the beast, even if they aren’t aware of how he got there, why he was there in the first place, and what happened to him once the whale had disgorged him onto the shore. For those of us more familiar with the story, we know Jonah as a reluctant prophet, called by God to take a message of prophetic warning to the city of Nineveh, who runs from his calling and seeks to evade his God and his mission.

But this focus on Jonah and his various travails can sometimes blind us to the story of the most important character in the book: God himself. It is God’s story that is at the centre of the book. This little book, a mere four chapters long, focuses on the very story that is at the centre of the entire biblical narrative: the pouring out of God’s unmerited grace upon those who have sinned against him, the offer of reconciliation with the One humanity has turned its back on. As we go through the book of Jonah, we should keep in our minds the challenge that closes the book, the challenge that God puts before Jonah: is our character truly imitating the character of the God we serve?

Questions to Consider
What does the story of Jonah mean to you? What is it about?

Prayer
Almighty Lord, thank you for your word, the precious gift of scripture that shows us who you are and reveals your will for us as your followers. Help me be faithful to your call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Real Main Character in the Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 1:3-10

Even from this brief opening passage of the book of Jonah, we are left in no doubt as to who is in charge here: God is. He commands Jonah to go. He sends the storm. He is in control of the story, and his will will not be thwarted, no matter the surprising twists the story contains. Even here at the very beginning, the theme of the worship of God not being limited to Israel alone – the key thing Jonah must learn – is evident. The sailors don’t just fear God because he has sent the storm, but because they see his power evident in the way he controls nature and in the way he delivers them. The storm was God’s, from beginning to end.

Jonah resists God, and as we will see his disobedience leads to the sailors’ conversion to the worship of the true God of all creation. Yahweh is shown to be a universal God, the one who created the world and who controls it. All of humanity can know God if they so wish. Even though it is definitely the majority position of the Old Testament to focus almost exclusively on Yahweh as Israel’s God and Israel alone as his chosen people in relationship with him, knowing and worshipping God is something open to all people, even foreigners and Israel’s enemies. This is a major point of the book of Jonah. What these pagan sailors see God doing – demonstrating his power over nature, but also having compassion on them and rescuing them – causes them to abandon their own gods, turn to him and vow to serve and worship him only.

Questions to Consider
Have there been times in your life when you have seen God’s hand in things that at first looked like God was nowhere in it? What happened? How was God’s purpose revealed to you in what happened?

Prayer
Loving Father, you are the centre of the story, the centre of my life. Remind me of this fact when my heart wavers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Blocking the Father’s Work

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 1:11-17

The bible is full of stories of people considered to be beyond the pale, beyond saving, beyond redemption, and yet still being saved by the power and grace of a God who takes the initiative in reaching out to them. God was with David, even after David had committed adultery and murder. God heard the last, desperate prayer of Samson as he tried one final redemptive act for his God. Zacchaeus was restored in his relationship with God and with his community even though he was a tax collector. And Saul was persecuting and killing the followers of Jesus, and yet God still reached out to him on the road to Damascus.

God likes to save those who are considered – by others, often us – to be beyond saving. Maybe we think the pagan sailors were unworthy of being saved; perhaps we scoff at their turning to God as it was only imminent destruction that prompted them to do so. Jonah ran from his calling and his God, fleeing in the opposite direction he was commanded to go; surely such flagrant disobedience does not deserve God’s gracious mercy? But it was God’s initiative that saw these people saved. It was his mercy and grace that saw them redeemed and welcomed back into relationship with God. This is what God wants for everyone. Jonah’s mission was one that showed God’s love for all people, even those who turned away from him. God reached out to the Ninevites through Jonah, and yet Jonah turned away from the ones God was reaching out to. Will we, like Jonah, also let our prejudices get in the way of God’s work?

Questions to Consider
Have you ever found yourself blocking God’s work? How? Why? What got you moving in the right direction again?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, guide me back to the right path when I stumble. May I be a channel for your love not an impediment to it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Hymn of Thanksgiving

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 2:1-9

There is much scholarly debate about whether the psalm in chapter 2 is actually an original part of the book of Jonah, written in line with the author’s purposes for the book, or whether it is a pre-existing, independent psalm inserted into the book much later, in an attempt to make the character of Jonah a little more attractive. Whatever the ultimate origin of the poem, it is clear that the main concern the psalmist has is his distance from his community and from the temple, the sacred, holy place where he feels safe and protected. Death, though present, doesn’t seem to be terribly much of a problem for Jonah at this point. What is more concerning is the separation from his people and his place, and the dwelling place of God. And yet Jonah learns something new, encountering a reality that he had not considered or experienced before. Though cut off from the temple, his prayer still reaches God and God answers.

Jonah learns – via this experience – that God is everywhere, not just resident in his temple but resident in his creation. There is nowhere Jonah, or indeed anyone, can go where God is not present. For Jonah, this revelation comes as both comfort and threat. Comfort, because even in his time of deepest need, so far from home, he still found God at hand to rescue him – because God is everywhere. Threat, because no matter where Jonah runs to, no matter where he tries to hide, there is no escaping from God, because God will seek him out and find him – because God is everywhere.

Questions to Consider
Have you ever tried to run from God before? Why? What happened?

Prayer
Father God, forgive me for the times when I have tried to run from you, or been slow to respond to you. Forgive my fears and doubts. I thank you for still meeting me wherever I flee, and bringing me back to you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – A Change of Heart?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 2:9-10

The hymn of thanksgiving that Jonah offers to God is a beautiful evocation of a change of heart. If anything deserves to labelled a conversion hymn then this could very well be it. But if we know the rest of the story of Jonah that follows, then we know that we have cause to question the sincerity of Jonah’s repentance and return to God. Such a turnaround in perspective, such a change of heart, if genuine, would surely have resulted in different behaviour than that which Jonah will almost immediately begin displaying. We would expect a transformed Jonah to continue on his way with an entirely new outlook towards his God and his mission. “What I have vowed, I will make good,” he says. But we pretty much get more of the same. Jonah does the bare minimum necessary to fulfil his commission, and he goes into a self-righteous sulk when the Ninevites take his prophetic word seriously and actually repent.

Through Jonah’s unreformed behaviour, the story forces us to look at ourselves and ask, “Are we like Jonah?” Do we only wish to be in a worshipping community with people like ourselves, people of whom we approve? Do we speak of God’s saving power and all he has done for us (rescuing us from certain death) and yet have no interest in what he is doing in the lives of others (bringing to salvation)? Do we praise God for delivering us from sin and freeing us from lives trapped in cycles of destructive, addictive behaviour, only to show no sympathy for those whose lives are still similarly trapped?

Questions to Consider
How can we combat ingratitude? How do we let compassion become the dominant lens through which we view others?

Prayer
Lord God, grow in me the same compassion for others that you have shown me, the same love for others that you showered on me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Mid Winter Series – Trees

Readings for this week August 5 – 9
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – A Green Country

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Job 12:7-10

We are, relatively speaking, a young country. A significant portion of our native forests still remain, and even allowing for the deliberate deforestation we have inflicted upon them, there is much of this land’s natural flora and fauna that we are still able to experience. We like to see ourselves as a country of pristine natural beauty, and while our environmental missteps and carelessness are plainly evident to see, one of the things we are most well-known for globally is the beauty of our countryside. Trees are a natural part of the lives of most New Zealanders; we are a people that is used to seeing green around us, wherever we are.

Before its removal from the summit in 2000, the tree standing atop One Tree Hill in Auckland was one of New Zealand’s most iconic natural features, its silhouette against the sky a famous image here and also abroad. Also very well-known is Tane Mahuta, a 45 metre tall kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest in Northland. Estimates of Tane Mahuta’s age range from 1,250 years (significantly predating European settlement in New Zealand, and landing at the latter end of projected Maori arrival) to 2,500 years (half a millennia before the birth of Jesus). And while these solitary trees might be well-known in the public imagination, as we are slowly discovering, trees are not solely “individuals”; they have a social life just as we do and are able to connect and interact with each other to create ecological communities. As we will discover in the readings this week, there is far more going on below the surface that connects trees together than we might realise.

Questions to Consider
What part do trees play in your life? What and when do you think of trees?

Prayer
Lord God, reveal to me the ways we are bound together that I fail to see. Show me how I am connected to those I fail to see. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Social Life of Trees

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Ezekiel 17:5-6

As much as we have recently begun to understand the ecological connections between various plants in their habitats, the true extent of these connections is only now beginning to be realised – never mind yet understood. We are only just starting to discover how extensive the connections between plants near and far actually are. For example, fungi wrap themselves around the roots of plants, and through increasing the mass of the roots, help the plant soak up water and nutrients at a greater rate. Not only that, but food and nutrients can actually be passed along the system from tree to tree and from plant to plant.

Until recently, scientists thought this type of thing was a one-off, each plant having its own individual fungus. But now we know that what is really going on is so much more complicated and interconnected than this. Studies have shown that these fungal networks connect hundreds of trees. One Douglas fir tree was found to be connected to 47 others, thanks to eight individuals from one fungus species and three from another. Discoveries such as this are changing the way we look at plant communities. So much happens unseen by us, below the surface, beneath the ground. Plants are more entwined, and over much greater areas, than we thought. Our (slow, but growing) realisation of the interconnectedness of all things, and the fact that we are all part of larger systems and ecologies, continues to grow as we discover new ways in which these interconnections occur.

Questions to Consider
Why is it important for trees that they connect and intertwine with each other? What can we learn from the way they do this?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, continue to reveal the nature of nature to us. Give us a greater appreciation for the world you have created. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Friendly Forest

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 60:13

One of the things that we have discovered that trees and other plants can do is warn their neighbours of threats and diseases that are assailing them, thus spurring these nearby trees and plants to increase their own defences against attack. Plants being ravaged by disease or by animals browsing on their leaves and flowers can send out chemical “distress signals” through the air as an early warning system to other plants in the area, thus giving these other plants an early warning system that warns them of possible imminent threats, giving them time to take action to protect themselves from attack. And as we have already seen, plants can also communicate through intricate underground networks of fungi, connecting various trees and plants together in a vast web, largely unseen by above ground dwellers such as ourselves.

These communication networks aren’t only between members of a single species of plant. Scientists have conducted experiments that show plants communicate through such fungal networks even if they are not of the same species. In one study seedlings of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine were planted close together, separated by mesh barriers small enough to prohibit root contact between the seedlings but large enough for fungal penetration to occur. When researchers pulled all the needles off the Douglas fir seedlings, the damaged trees used their root fungi to alert the ponderosa pines to the attack, and this prompted the pines to produce protective enzymes. Furthermore, the dying Douglas firs even passed on their reserves of food to the unrelated, still healthy pine seedlings.

Questions to Consider
What do trees give to each other? What do we give to each other?

Prayer
Almighty Father, show me how I can better look out and care for those around me. Show me how to open up my network to more people. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – May Our Failure Spur Us To Do Better

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 8:19-23

The variety and beauty of this world show us how amazing God is. God designed the world to be a home for all creatures, humanity included. What an awesome and spectacularly beautiful world we belong to. We are so privileged to be able to enjoy it. We need to remember that the environment we live in is not to be taken for granted. God has given us the responsibility of caring for this creation. Sadly, we haven’t done this nearly as well as we should have, or nearly as well as we need to in order for this wonderful gift of a world that God has given us to survive – and us with it. Our role is to care for the earth, not exploit it or waste its resources. God expects his children to care for his creation in the same way he does. The animals, plants and ecosystems we share this planet with are God’s handiwork just as much as we are. We need to care for it better.

For example, in the last four decades alone the jungles that orangutans live in have declined in size by 75% due to human activity, most of which is due to deforestation in order to plant palm oil trees, which many companies still use in their production of cocoa. We are losing tropical forest at the rate of 15 million hectares every year, as farmers clear land in order to have somewhere to grow the crops that (predominantly) Western companies deem lucrative – for the companies. We cannot afford for this to continue. Jungles store and capture more carbon than any other habitat on the planet. They cool the planet, and are a rich source for us, providing food and medicines. We – all of us – need to start living in a way that protects God’s creation, not destroys it.

Question to Consider
How can you contribute to the global effort to care for the earth?

Prayer
Creator God, forgive us for our failure to love and care for your creation as well as you do. Guide us, your people, as we seek to do better. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Becoming Cognizant of Our Connections

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 8

Chocolate. Coffee. Trees. Three simple, commonplace objects capable of giving us much insight into – and food for thought about – our place in the world; the place of our fellow human beings, both near and far, in our lives; the ways, both seen and unseen, acknowledged and denied, that we are connected together; and the effect that we have on each other and on our world. Community is about interconnectedness and acknowledging that we are connected to, influenced by, and responsible for, each other. We are connected to others through what we grow and consume, and the ways in which we do this. We are connected through how we behave and act locally and globally. We are connected through the environments we inhabit and the ecology we share.

Perhaps the next step in our growing awareness of community is to become cognizant of the unseen ways in which we are connected with others, the unintentional ways in which we affect the lives of those far from us, and to acknowledge the truly global reach that community has. Being a part of the same human family is not just a matter of semantics any more. In this day and age community has a globe-spanning reach – and world encompassing consequences for the ways in which communities and their members behave and act towards each other and towards other communities. As God’s people, charged with bringing hope and restoration to his creation, as a people called to model a different way of living and being, we of all people need to be living lives that show the love and grace that God has poured out upon his earthly community.

Questions to Consider
What have you learned from our Mid-winter series? What will you change?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, show me what you want me to do. Mould me in the direction of positive change for my community and my world. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Mid Winter Series – Coffee

Readings for this week July 29 – August 2
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Coffee, Coffee, Everywhere

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – James 2:1-4

Coffee is such a huge – and lucrative – industry that it is only to be expected that it has some huge problems associated with it (this is also true of a large number of other products and industries, but let’s just look at coffee for now). As followers of Jesus we need to make sure that our actions are not supporting or enabling anything that cuts across the core values of the kingdom of God, and do not contribute to the exploitation and dehumanisation of our fellow human beings created in God’s image. Checking the coffee we buy to make sure it is ethically grown, sold and processed is one thing we can do.

The main issues attached to coffee are labour exploitation (see also tomorrow’s reading), environmental degradation and wasteful packaging. Coffee is one of the leading industries in its use of child slaves, as well as its use of child labour, debt bondage, wage theft and unsafe working conditions, the latter usually related to pesticides and chemicals. Also, coffee was traditionally grown in the shade under rainforest canopies, but many farmers have been encouraged to move to sun-grown coffee, which has seen huge swathes of rainforest cleared to make way for these higher yield crops. Finally, 10 billion single serve plastic coffee pods go into American landfills alone each year. But there are coffee companies now committed to producing ethically grown and packaged beans, to the non-exploitation of workers, and to sustainable environmental practices.

Question to Consider
Do you know where your coffee (or other drink/product) comes from?

Prayer
Lord God, give me the eyes to scrutinise my life and my actions and the wisdom to know how to change and the courage to do so. Make me a better citizen of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Struggle to Earn a Living

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Proverbs 22:16

The majority of the world’s coffee beans are grown by small independent coffee farmers, each growing on a couple of hectares of land. 25 million such famers produce about 70 per cent of the world’s coffee beans. They in turn sell their crop to coffee companies that then process the beans into coffee and sell it to consumers. Of course, these farmers are trying to earn a living, feed their families and support their communities. But the power traditionally lies with the coffee companies. If, for example, it costs a small coffee farmer between US$3.50 and US$4 to produce a kilogram of coffee, but the international coffee price (the price that companies will buy from the farmer) is set at only US$2.50, the farmer loses out.

For a long time this was how the system worked (and not just for coffee). As David McKernan, founder of Java Republic wrote, “The truth is, the coffee growers of today are not much better off than the thousands of slaves forced to develop this huge commodity by the colonial powers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The historical crimes of our predecessors are not just an issue of the past. The highly unethical treatment of coffee growers continues today.” Various Fairtrade organisations are now supporting the farmers by committing to minimum coffee purchase prices that guarantee a living income for the farmers. This has allowed a greater share of the multi-billion dollar coffee profits to go to the farmers and their families, with its knock-on effect of allowing greater access to education, health care, etc., and greater investment in communities.

Questions to Consider
What does ethical kingdom living look like? Why?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, speak to those with economic power over others, whether CEOs or consumers. Guide them to decisions that benefit those struggling to provide for their families and communities. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Seeking the Kingdom First

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:33

Because of the vast, globe-spanning, inter-connected nature of our economic system, actions both big and small are all part of the same system, in one way or another. Whether the smaller scale decisions of individual consumers and citizens, or the larger decisions of multinational companies, what we do on one side of the world affects what happens on the other; what we do in our lives influences and changes what happens in the lives of people thousands of miles from us, in completely different circumstances. Because of this inter-connection, we need to be more mindful of how our actions, big and small, affect others. As followers of Jesus, we especially need to ensure that the kingdom values we espouse will withstand not just the scrutiny they may get in our everyday interactions with our neighbours, but also the global impact they have.

Overturning injustice, freedom from slavery, striving for equality, and a sustainable environment are all signs of the kingdom. When our desire for these things grows we know we are in the presence of God’s kingdom. But we need to open ourselves to the constant transforming presence of God’s Spirit so that our desire for these things will grow; where the human meets the Godly and is changed in the process; when God’s heart grows in us and is manifested in our lives in an unmistakable way. We need to seek God’s kingdom first, and make sure our lives are beacons of God’s kingdom ahead of everything else they may be. The kingdom has to be first. Either we seek the kingdom first, or we don’t seek it at all.

Question to Consider
What does seeking the kingdom first mean for our big and small economic decisions?

Prayer
Almighty Father, help me see the ways, big and small, in which I can join with your coming kingdom in transforming lives both near to me and far across your world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – What I Pay Versus What It Costs Others

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 John 3:17

The cheapest price. The biggest saving. The best bargain. These seem to be the main considerations thrown at us when we are thinking of spending our money. Advertisers appeal to us through the attraction of a cheaper price, a bigger saving. We are pressed to make sure we save, that we pay the cheapest price, that whatever happens, we get our money’s worth. But perhaps we need to ask ourselves: are others getting their money’s worth? Will the purchase of this item – this t-shirt, that phone, this cup of coffee – result in others in this world, responsible for putting this product in front of me, getting their money’s worth? Am I, in my purchases, looking at the transaction through a kingdom lens? Am I looking at the path the item has taken to get to me, or am I just asking what it’ll cost me?

Because, if we are honest, looking deeply at who pays and what it costs others will no doubt cost us more in some way, and, more often than not, if we were to take this seriously, it will cost us financially. Perhaps we will end up paying more for some things; maybe we will end up switching brands or companies – or even away from ‘brands’ altogether. And it will cost us time, the time taken to find out more, to see who is affected, and how. The ease, convenience – and cheapness – of consuming the way we do needs to be held up to the compassion, fairness and welfare that the kingdom of God demands from its citizens – and demands its citizens fight to achieve for others, especially for those in no position to fight for themselves.

Questions to Consider
What does sacrificial kingdom living look like in a global marketplace? How is your wallet a repository of God’s redeeming grace?

Prayer
Gracious God, give me a greater hunger for justice and equality and greater vision to see the places where I can make a difference. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – What Do You Believe?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Job 26:7-14

There are two questions that stem from all of this. Do we actually believe God is big enough and capable enough to have something to say about the current economic, social and environmental imbalances plaguing the world? Do we actually think it is possible for our human economic systems, financial institutions and societies to be placed at God’s feet, and to be redeemed by his kingdom power, and renewed into entities that serve the wellbeing of everyone in every society? Do we think what we label “spiritual realities” have any relation at all to our conduct in the marketplace? Or is everything just too damaged and messed up to ever be used for God’s purposes?

The second question follows on from our answer to the first. Are we actually prepared to offer our lives – our entire lives, every thought and action – as a channel through which God can redeem every part of our world, restoring people and places, redeeming structures and institutions, and transforming people and societies? Do we believe things can actually change, and that God is calling us to lead that change through the power of his Spirit? Do we believe that such change is just as equally carried on through our small daily words and actions at work, at school, at home, in the marketplace, online, as it is through larger scale action, group initiative, and institutional change? Do we actually believe in God’s power to change us? Do we genuinely believe things can change? Will we genuinely offer ourselves as agents of change?

Question to Consider
What is your view of God’s power and his will for this world we share?

Prayer
Lord God, come to us and change us, transform us; make us see the true redeeming power that you have poured out on this broken world. Show us the true possibilities inherent in your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Mid Winter Series – Chocolate

Readings for this week July 22 – 26
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Mid Winter Stories

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 1:29-31

The next three weeks of readings are for our Mid-Winter Stories series, a series that will focus on Chocolate, Coffee and Trees. We will be looking at the story of the Cadbury family and their strong commitment to the poor and marginalised in their community, and the way they used their chocolate business as a means to fight against social inequalities and injustice. How do different worldviews influence the ways companies do business and therefore affect lives and communities? Coffee is one of the most influential commodities in the world. The entire process of growing, processing, marketing and selling it encompasses the whole globe, connecting communities of vastly different wealth, status and power. Are all of these communities treated equally in the coffee making process? Can the creation of such a ubiquitous commodity be a source through which we can invest back into communities across the world in a way that transforms them and the people living in them?

The social life of trees is the third focus of this series. Trees grow in community and intertwine and connect in ways that aren’t immediately apparent from the outside. They grow with interlocking root systems that share nutrients and also share warnings of danger to the entire system. One thing that we want to encourage through this series is reflection on seemingly ordinary aspects of our lives and the ways in which they can be – and should be – conduits for the power and grace of God to flow into our lives and through our lives for the benefit of others in this world.

Question to Consider
Trees, Coffee, Chocolate: what role do these things play in your life?

Prayer
Lord God, help me see my life and your world with fresh eyes. Show me more ways in which my simple everyday words and actions can serve you in ever greater ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Cadbury Compassion

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

Although more famous for chocolate today, from well before the creation of the Cadbury chocolate company, the Cadbury family was committed to using what they had to help those in need.  Helping the poor and marginalised was always a central belief of the Cadbury family. John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury chocolate business was a Quaker, and as such, at the time in the 19th century, was not allowed to enter university and, as a pacifist, could not enter the military, so he turned his attention to business. Prior to the founding of Cadbury, John had already spent many years campaigning against social injustice, fighting against the exploitation of child chimney sweeps, railing against animal cruelty, and other social ills of the time. Campaigning for the rights of the poor and working to alleviate the social causes of poverty was simply what he and his family did because they believed it to be right.

It seems that today, for so many companies, and even entire economies as a whole, the dollar is the bottom line, or indeed the only line. However, over the last decade in particular, more and more companies are taking greater awareness of the impact they have on the societies and communities in which they operate – both negative and positive. While many companies see “giving back to the community” or adopting good ethical and environmental practises as merely a good PR move, others, like the Cadbury family, see it as essential in order to see people treated fairly and with dignity so that we might have healthier communities and a healthier world.

Question to Consider
How does being God’s followers affect our decisions as economic actors?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, may your kingdom values penetrate even into my wallet. May I steward all I have in accordance with your will for all people. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Clash of Values

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:26

“Sadly, the creation of the still-lively community at Bournville may have been the high point for [the Cadbury] brand. The first signs of its descent from its origins as a force for social good – the lowermost slopes of which it finally traversed this week – were visible as early as the late 1960s. In 1969, Cadbury merged with Schweppes. That put an end to its Quaker ideals and social underpinning. It became a business with a single, capitalist motive: selling more confectionary, making more money. […] In 1978, a US chocolate magnate, Peter Paul, acquired a 10 per cent share. Its profits outside the UK overtook its British interests. In the late 2000s, jobs were stripped with the closure of a factory in Keynsham. Some of that production moved overseas.

After months of wrangling, in January 2010 Kraft Foods finally bought the firm for £8.40 a share. […] When the buyout occurred, Kraft said it would stick to Cadbury’s commitment to using Fairtrade cocoa beans to produce its chocolate. Fairtrade rules mean that cocoa farmers earn a minimum of £1,600 per tonne of cocoa sold. This week, Cadbury confirmed that it was no longer working with Fairtrade, and had instead switched to a new cocoa production partnership known as Cocoa Life – which does not exert the same price rules. Cadbury is now a subsidiary of an arm of Kraft, or spin-out company, known as Mondelez International. Its chief executive is Irene Rosenfeld. Her remuneration rose by 50 per cent in 2014, to $21m. What the cocoa farmers who work to supply her global operation will earn for their crucial part in her success is now under question.”

Excerpted from here.

Question to Consider
How do we allow and account for differing values in our society?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, staying true to you can be difficult. Thank you for your Spirit to guide us and empower us. May I always look to you first in everything. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Two Unhelpful Extremes

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Proverbs 30:7-9

Some people are incredibly wealthy while others live on the edge of life with nothing. We are all aware of this great imbalance in our world. The question many of us have is how are we meant to live in this world when it is so unequal? 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, and is therefore greatly to be sought after. Perhaps it should not surprise us that the place where this teaching really took hold and prospers today is the wealthiest and most consumptive society this planet has ever seen. The opposite teaching is that wealth is bad and poverty is considered preferable by God. Many with this view see poverty as somehow a more authentic way for human beings to live.

The Bible teaches neither of these extremes. It warns that wealth is dangerous because when we have plenty we can quite easily forget both God and the poor. The Bible also teaches, repeatedly and unambiguously, that poverty traps people in dehumanising relationships, suffering and sin, and that none of this is God’s plan for anyone. As Jesus’ followers we must walk a narrow road between the dangers of seeing wealth 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, ungraspingly and generously.

Question to Consider
How can you live more generously through this next week?

Prayer
Almighty Father, help me live simply – when so much clamours for my attention; ungraspingly – when so much distracts me from chasing after you; and generously – when there are so many in need. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Rival Kingdoms

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:19-34

We live in a world of great inequality, and that inequality is growing every day. A small portion of the world’s population (including most of us in this country) possesses most of the world’s wealth, gained by exploiting and consuming the great majority of the world’s resources, and doing so at huge environmental cost. Workers are exploited, people are enslaved, ecologies are destroyed and all for the sake of more money for those who already have more than enough. Jesus calls us to reject this cycle of personal enrichment built on social impoverishment, and instead to share life in solidarity with the poor, and to work with them to make a fairer, more equitable world for all.

Any brand of Christianity that actively or passively acquiesces in the exploitation of people and places, or that labels it – and its consequences – the will of a God who has ordained the earth and its resources as free to be used by humanity in any way it chooses, regardless of the consequences, has completely detached itself from the saviour it claims to follow. The communications and technology revolution now means we talk of the global village. But so many of us do not live like we care for our fellow villagers, or even believe that we should care. But Jesus came for all, and his call is for all who follow him to take the message of his kingdom to all people and all places, and to work – and live – to bring his kingdom everywhere, but especially to the people and places that are furthest from experiencing the love, freedom and transformation that his sacrifice brought to the world.

Question to Consider
How do rival kingdoms try and claim your allegiance?

Prayer
Loving Father, injustice, inequality and exploitation have no place in your coming kingdom. May nothing in my life support them. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Mark 2

Readings for this week July 15 – 19
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Unexpected Follower of an Unexpected King

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 2:13-17

Levi, son of Alphaeus, was not a popular person. In fact, he was an outcast, a pariah, scorned by his fellow Jews because of his line of work, and because his work was in service to the authorities, in this case directly to the Herodian family, and behind them the Romans. People passing from the land overseen by Herod Antipas into the land ruled by Phillip were required to pay a toll in order to be allowed through. Levi was one such toll collector, and hence was not beloved of his fellow citizens. We know nothing about how he got the job, whether he supported the Herodians or not, whether he had chosen the job or been forced to take it.

But Jesus doesn’t ignore him, scorn him or berate him for his job choice. He comes to his toll booth and invites Levi to “Come follow me.” Shocking for Levi; shocking for anyone else watching too. Levi worked for the enemy, for the forces of oppression – for a family that claimed to be the true royal family of Israel. But now he was following another who claimed to be king, and as Mark’s gospel continues, more and more signs of Jesus’ true kingship will slowly be revealed to Levi and the other disciples. Time after time Mark shows us how the words and especially actions of Jesus strike at the very heart of the political, cultural, social and religious expectations and practices of the time, and how he aroused opposition from almost every segment of society.

Questions to Consider
In what ways are you an unexpected follower of Jesus? How do you prepare space to welcome other unexpected followers to God’s family?

Prayer
Father God, thank you for loving us all, no matter where we have come from and what we have done. Your love knows no boundaries and leaves no one out. Help me love the same way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – New Wine, Which Wineskins?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 2:18-22

We bottle our wine these days; the ancient world stored their wine in wineskins. Putting new wine in old skins would eventually burst the skins, wasting the wine. This image of the new wine needing new wineskins tells us that what Jesus was doing could not be fitted into the old ways of thinking and living. God was doing something new, and to take on board this new thing of God’s would require a change in thinking, an expanding of horizons, a willingness to think and act in ways that might not fit in with previous ways of thinking and acting. To try and keep God’s new ways within the boundaries of the old ways of living – to try and store the new wine in old skins – would only lead to disaster: the destruction of the old skins and the loss of the new wine. Jesus was challenging the Galileans to think differently, more expansively. The call to accept the new is always a difficult one that challenges the very core of our being, especially when the new challenge is to our way of life.

When God is doing new things we need to join the feast, not moan about the fact that the new wine God has lavishly poured out for us might burst our old wineskins. The challenge for the church has always been distinguishing between the new wine and the old wineskins. What worked before won’t necessarily always hold for the future. When we spend all our time arguing over the wineskins rather than celebrating the wonderful gift of the new wine, that is a sign that the transforming ‘new thing’ Jesus did, the new in-breaking of God’s kingdom, has not yet taken full hold of us.

Questions to Consider
How have you experienced God’s newness? What changed for you?

Prayer
Lord God, may we celebrate your newness and seek to always be faithful to you, the way you have been faithful to us, in the old and in the new. May we focus on the wine, not the container. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Looking for a Scandal

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 2:23-24

“Contemporary analogies are fraught with danger. But there exist certain persons in modern western society who are elected to no office, hold no government position, carry no authority from the police or the judiciary, and yet who appoint themselves to be the guardians of public morality. From this unofficial position they assume the right to scrutinise and criticise every movement of the royal, the religious, and the politically active – all of whom gnash their teeth but remain powerless. I refer, of course, to journalists. Far be it from me to attack all members of such a noble profession with criticisms appropriate only to some; and yet it cannot go unremarked that some journalists not infrequently bind heavy moral burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the backs of those whose activities they report, while they themselves do not attempt to lift such burdens with their little finger. This is not a mere digression. It reminds us of two important points. (a) One does not have to be a member of an official thought police in order to have considerable influence within a culture. (b) The self-appointed guardians of public behaviour might not cross the street to inspect the private behaviour of an unknown individual. But they will happily go to the other side of the world, and hide in places far less congenial than Galilean cornfields, in order to take one surreptitious photograph of a princess wearing somewhat less than she would normally put on for the cameras.

To bring this back to the first century. Even if … we were to grant that the average Pharisee would not inspect the hands, or worry about the corn-plucking habits, of an ordinary Jew, we must insist that, in anyone’s terms, Jesus was not an ordinary Jew. He was a prophet, announcing that Israel’s god was becoming king. If a humble monk suddenly becomes Archbishop, or a country boy decides to run for President, all eyes are upon him. If he has already given broad hints of adopting unfashionable or unpopular policies, some of the eyes will be eager for scandal.”

N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p.392.

Question to Consider
How does the scrutiny applied to Jesus also apply to and affect us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me live a life beyond reproach in service of you. No hint of scandal, just love for you and for others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Another Controversy, Another Messianic Claim

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 2:25-26

Notice what Jesus doesn’t say here. He doesn’t disagree with the Pharisees and dispute their claim about the disciples. He doesn’t deny that the disciples are outside the bounds of traditional Sabbath observance. The Pharisees actually have a point. Instead, Jesus claims special circumstances as a reason for the disciples’ behaviour and even gives a scriptural example to back up his claim for the disciples’ exemption from Sabbath observance on this occasion. And, as we would expect by now, he does so in a way that makes some very strong, controversial claims for himself, who he is and what he is doing.

This episode in the life of King David came at a time when he had been anointed king by the prophet Samuel, but had not yet actually been enthroned as king. He was hiding from Saul, trying to gather support, and waiting for when his time would come. The Pharisees (and any others listening) would have been shocked by the parallels between David and Jesus that Jesus was claiming here: the true king, ordained by God but not yet recognised and vindicated as king. And like David, Jesus, as king, was claiming the right to be able to bypass the usual rules and regulations in order to feed his people. His claim was a messianic one. He was not casually trying to cover for his wayward disciples. The kingdom was coming; God was doing a new thing and new life was bursting out all over the place, in new and unexpected ways.

Questions to Consider
What do you think of what David did and Jesus’ claim to be doing the same? What do you think the disciples thought of this?

Prayer
Loving Father, others need to see the new life you have given me, need to see the new way to be that you want for us – and I need to see the new ways to live out this new life. Show me and teach me. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Not Just Another Day

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 2:27-28

I am old enough to remember when there was a difference between the week and the weekend, Saturday as well, not just Sunday. The biggest difference: apart from New Brighton Mall on Saturday mornings, shops were closed. These days, leaving aside online shopping, everything is open almost all the time. So many jobs (especially in the retail sector) require workers to work weekends or at least be available to do so. Sunday is now just another day of the week; for many it would be merely coincidental that church services are held on that day. Only those young enough to be at school would notice any particular difference. It can be hard to observe a Sabbath when we are pressured to view all days as essentially the same.

Such a view isn’t helped when Jesus’ statement that “the son of man is master even of the Sabbath” is interpreted to mean that we need not observe the Sabbath because Jesus has abolished it. Not at all. The point is not our freedom from the Sabbath but the good news that we have been set free for the Sabbath. God cared enough for his creation to give us a day of rest. We know life is busy. We know that there is even an entire profession devoted to helping people relieve the pressures of modern life, and entire sections of the pharmaceutical industry geared towards alleviating the stress caused by the pace of life today. Perhaps if more of us observed the Sabbath and kept it as a time of holy rest and renewal, these pressures would not be so great, for us and for those who see our example.

Questions to Consider
How is your Sunday different from other days of the week? Why?

Prayer
Creator God, thank you for knowing us and what we need, and for giving us a day to rest, to refresh ourselves in you and with others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)