Jesus’ Stories – Luke 14 15-24

Readings for this week August 24-28
Click here for a PDF of this week’s readings

Jesus Stories - Booklet Cover2

Day 1 – A Sabbath Healing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 14:1-6
The Pharisees may have been the people Jesus had some of his most significant run-ins with, but he still associated with them, still sat at the table and talked and disputed with them. And he did this even though he knew full well, as Luke reminds us here, that they were closely watching him and all that he did. The Pharisees were looking for any irregularities in Jesus’ behaviour – irregularities in what they considered to be the appropriate standard. And Jesus turns these standards upside down.

Rather than play it safe, he heals a man. No pomp, no ceremony, he just does it, restoring the man to himself and his community, in defiance of any and all human Pharisaic standard. Jesus’ logic is unanswerable: if it’s alright to help animals on the Sabbath, surely it must be okay to heal people – made in the image of God – on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees could watch Jesus all they liked, but they had no answer to what he said and what he did. His teaching and his healing were too much for them. They were too full of pride and too small-minded to let go of their position, prestige and prejudices, and simply open themselves up to the love of God. As we will see emphasised further in tomorrow’s reading, like so many people, the Pharisees were so busy jostling for what they thought was the favoured position before God that they lost sight of anyone else. Jesus showed them, and us, how to shine God’s love for all where all can see it.

Question to Consider
How can we sometimes be like the Pharisees? What causes us to view/treat others like this? What are the consequences for them and us?

Prayer
Lord God, May I never treat people like objects, or consider them unworthy or unimportant due to some standard of my own devising. Help see people the way you do, and help me see the ways I can best be your loving servant to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 2 – Where Do I Sit?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 14:7-14
Jesus was on show, a dinner guest at the home of one of his critics. And he knows that, based on what he has just done in healing someone on the Sabbath, right in front of everyone!  His every move will be watched even more keenly now. His detractors will be eagerly hoping he will give them some ammunition to trip him up with.

But Jesus has other ideas. Rather than immediately precipitate another confrontation, his observation of the guests jostling for the best places at the table prompts him to tell a story. Not a story specifically designed to aggravate the Pharisees (that’ll come soon enough, if they aren’t riled up already), but one designed to get people thinking a bit more about how they view themselves and others, and what humility really looks like.

We all face life with a picture of who we are and our value in life. This is part of the way we were created. When sin entered the world a lot of things got messed up, one of them being this idea of self-image. Instead of being a reflection of our true status as created beings, and objects of God’s love, our view of ourselves is out of line, either far too high or damagingly low. We are continuously comparing ourselves with others, those who have the same problem as us. Only God can provide us with a correct and healthy view of ourselves. We should be modest and clear headed in our opinion of ourselves. Jesus uses a small, seemingly inconsequential moment to say an awful lot about how God’s people should see themselves and others.

Question to Consider
How do you view yourself? How do you view others? How does this affect the way you treat others and how you model the love of Jesus to others?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me see myself the way you do, and not just for myself, but so that I might grow to see others the way you see them too, and treat them with the same love and compassion you have so generously displayed towards me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 3 – It’s Our Choice How We RSVP

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 14:15
In our society it can be very easy to take our food and our access to food for granted. The ease with which the majority of us can get and eat pretty much any food we want at any time we want makes complacency a very easy default setting for us. And if we don’t attach much importance to how and when we eat, chances are we won’t attach much importance to who we eat with.

In many cultures sharing your hard-earned food with others is a great sacrifice yet a key sign of hospitality and love. How much more incredible is the banquet that Jesus invites us to! Jesus, the host, doesn’t demand that everyone shows up, though he has every right to. Instead he sends out invitations for us to join him. It’s completely up to us to come to the party or stay away. Jesus won’t force us to come if that’s what we choose, but sadly it does mean we miss out on the feast he’s prepared for us.

The community of Jesus’ followers is a random collection of hungry people who have accepted his invitation to celebrate the great feast with him. Everyone’s invited. No one, no matter who they are, needs to miss out. Jesus goes out of his way to invite people who’d normally miss out. The poor, sick and homeless are found and helped to get there. It’s clear that the kind of love Jesus brings includes quite a bit of social upheaval. Nowhere is this plainer to see than at his banquet table. He calls us to be part of this, to go out and find people wherever they are, and to invite them one by one to his banquet. That means inviting them to share our table.

Question to Consider
Part of this picture is that the door is always open to more and more people. How do we feel about welcoming more and different people into our community?

Prayer
Loving Father, may I always have an open door to welcome people through. Teach me to be more generous and hospitable to others, especially those I don’t know and who don’t know you or your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 4 – Who’s Invited?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 14:16-21
Who should we invite to share with us? God has told us the kind of person to whom we should show hospitality, and for many of us, if we are honest, it isn’t the kind of person we might have first thought of.

Jesus painted a remarkable picture of what his kingdom is like. More especially, who will be a part of his kingdom. A man planned a banquet. When the invited guests made excuses and failed to show the man got his servants to bring in the lame, the sick, the crippled, the poor the very people we’d least expect to see at an important social event like this. Certainly the very last people the Pharisees, Jesus’s primary audience here would have expected to see invited. But in the parable the Pharisees are the original invitees who made excuses and refused to go to the banquet.

So who should we share ourselves and our lives with? Our friends and people we like? No, Jesus calls us to something quite different. He said, ‘Love your neighbour’ and made it quite clear that absolutely everyone was included in the definition of neighbour, even those we consider our enemies.

The story of the banquet made the same point in a slightly different way. God’s banquet is open to all. As his people we are to invite others to the feast, seeking out the sick and lonely and sharing our lives with them. Everyone is invited.

Question to Consider
Who do you know that might be ‘not invited’ to God’s table? Pray for this person today, asking God to give you his love for them.

Prayer
God of compassion, give me your heart for the poor, the marginalised and the forgotten. Open my heart as I open my door and my life to those you love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5 – The Ultimate Feast

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 14:22-24
This passage gives a great picture of the kingdom of God, a heavenly vision of the ultimate rule of God. It is a giant, celebratory feast, where people of all nations will gather and rejoice at the overthrow of evil and the joy of being with our God.

Many times when Jesus wanted to explain to people what the kingdom of God is like, he told stories of great banquets and lavish feasts that were open to everyone (often while at a banquet, or at least while sharing food with people). The joy of the feast, the company of all people, prepared and presided over by God – this is the kingdom of God.

The banquet awaits and people all over the world and all over our neighbourhoods wait to be told that they are invited to the feast. If we obey the last command of Jesus, given to his disciples before his ascension, to go and make disciples of all people and invite them into his community, as further exemplified in this parable, then this wonderful picture of the kingdom of God will become a glorious reality.

The final, ultimate triumph of God, and the spread of his kingdom to all, is both a promise to us of the future that awaits us, and an incentive to spur us on to share that glorious reality with the whole world. To set the table, play the party music loud and clear, send out the menu and the invitations, and roll out the welcome mat to all.

Question to Consider
What big social community event could you and your community organise and invite your neighbours to?

Prayer
Almighty God, thank you for the openness and generosity with which you invite us to join you at the banquet table. May I show that same openness and generosity to all I meet; may my banquet table always be crowded with people from all situations and walks of life, to your glory. Amen.

Jesus’ Stories – Luke 16 1-14

Readings for this week August 17 – 21
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Jesus Stories - Booklet Cover2

Day 1  – Held Accountable

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:1-3
This is one parable on which all the commentators agree. They agree that it is probably the hardest to interpret! What sort of point is Jesus making by holding up as an example, a rascally dishonest manager? Evil things that we are familiar with can be used to illustrate a point, without praising the thing itself. Consider how Paul uses images of war and slavery to illustrate the Christian life.

Undoubtedly there are cultural nuances which we miss in Jesus’ parable. Almost certainly Jesus’ listeners would recognise the story of a landowner and steward/manager as a picture of God and Israel. Had not Israel been entrusted, as God’s chosen people, with the law, set apart to be God’s representatives? But Jesus’ message is that God is now moving in a new direction – through himself. Israel was not acting as a faithful representative; therefore they could not expect to hold their position for ever.

Of one thing we can be clear. The rich man in the story is going to hold his manager accountable. He will answer for his actions both good and bad. This is a solemn warning, that all we possess is a gift, held in trust. The Master expects obedience and accountability for how we use his gifts. While this story is based around material possessions, Spurgeon, the great English preacher noted that we have to give account for our stewardship of: time, talents, substance and influence.

Questions to Consider
Are there areas of my life that I view as intrincically ‘mine’ rather than gifts from God? On what basis do I decide how to use what I have been given?

Prayer
Father God, as I consider my many blessings and opportunities, help me to gratefully receive them all as gifts from your hand. Thank you that you trust me to be your representative, acting in your name. Speak to me about how to wisely use what is mine, to your glory, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 2  – Look to the Future

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 1:3-8
The steward knows his position is gone and things are going to change. But looking to the future he takes every opportunity to improve his lot. In cancelling part of the debts owed to the Master, he may have been forgoing a commission that he would have raking in off the top of the bills, therefore not actually defrauding his Master of what was owed. If however he was cutting the amount rightfully owed to the Master, he has now put him in a difficult position. The debtors must have been overjoyed and would be praising the generosity of the Master far and wide. For the Master to turn around and correct the situation would be to put him in an embarrassing and unpopular position.

So why is the steward commended for his maneuvering to carry favour with the debtors? He took advantage of his present position to improve his future prospects. Jesus is talking about two ages. This age, where the people of this world value material wealth, status and power, and use all their skills to get ahead. The people of light belong to the age that is coming, the kingdom that Jesus is introducing. An upside down kingdom where success comes through service, and wealth is measured in different values. Jesus is commending, not their goals, but the prudence and zeal with which people look to their future. The steward used his shrewd wisdom to plan for his future. William Barclay laments that if only Christians were as eager and ingenious in striving for goodness as people of the world in their attempts to attain money and pleasure, they would be much better people! Likewise its been asked why Cocoa Cola has spread faster and further than the gospel? Jesus asks us to look to our future. Inparticular, to look at participating in the kingdom that he is bringing among us.

Questions to Consider
How much do I think of the future, beyond just material prospects?
Do I strive to attain goodness, or wait for it to somehow fall upon me?
“The purpose of money, whether little or much, is to use it in the uncertain present in order to enrich the certain future.” Discuss.

Prayer
Father, help me see your perspective of the present, and build my joyful anticipation of the future, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 3  – Suits Without Pockets

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:8-9
On occasion undertakers are required to provide clothing for the deceased. Special suits are made available; like regular suits but with one exception – they have no pockets! What would be the need? We all face the imminent and certain end of all our material resources. As it has been said, you can’t take it with you. Or can you? Jesus is saying that one investment bridges the gulf between this existence and the world to come – friends. “Meaningful personal relationships, ties of spiritual life sharing, family ties in Christ, all these survive death” R Stedman.

The steward used his influence with money to better the position of the Master’s debtors, in the hope that they would view him as a friend and when his position was gone doors would be opened to him. In the Greco-Roman world money was often used to make friends, secure patrons and achieve social standing. Jesus, however, commends his disciples to use their resources for the betterment of others, but not to create a relationship of obligation. Kingdom giving has no strings attached and creates genuine social solidarity and real friendships. The ultimate result – a welcome in heaven. Investing in people, particularly people who can never repay your generosity, is living with an eye to the future world that Jesus is bringing about.

Question to Consider
Is money in itself, good…bad…or neutral?
When have I seen money used ‘with strings attached’?

Prayer
Father, help me take seriously these principles for using money. Thank you that you entrust me with resources that can be used to demonstrate your great love for people who are far away from you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 4  – Master and Slave

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:10-13
Our society applauds those who do well with money. Being a ‘self made man’, building great financial empires, is often seen as the pinnacle of success. From Jesus’ kingdom perspective money is one of the ‘little’ things. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” He contrasts ‘worldly wealth’ (false riches) with ‘true riches’. This is not to say that money is all bad. It is a case of whether it is used faithfully or unfaithfully. “Faithfulness is determined by one’s capacity to orient oneself around the coming aeon (age) and by extension, by one’s capacity to reflect in one’s practices the in breaking kingdom of God” Joel Green. In other words, are you serving this world and all its selfish values, or Jesus’ kingdom with its values of grace, generosity, hope, love and peace?

We are very used to compartmentalising our lives. So much time is given to jobs, family time, hobbies, quiet time, date nights, holidays and so on. In biblical times a slave was owned exclusively by one Master. His or her whole life was dictated by the will of that Master. There was no part time option, no knock off time, no split allegiances. Just as our lives are to reflect the character of our Master, so generosity and wise use of money reflects the generous nature of our God. “Money possessing a man is the direst curse, for it hardens his heart and paralyzes his noblest powers. The money of a God possessed man is a blessing, for it becomes the means of his expressing sympathy with his fellows” Morgan.

Money is a hard subject to grapple with. Take some time this week and ask the Holy Spirit to examine your attitude towards money. Ask for practical steps that will protect you from being tied to the greed and false security that this world’s system draws all of us toward.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, today I pledge my allegiance to you again. I know that in you alone is my security, my provision, my hope. Help me be open and transparent with others about how I orient my life. May your kingdom values be evident in my life, and a witness to your great love for those around me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5 – The Heart Of the Matter

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16: 14-15
Jesus has told a parable around money, and is about to tell another. But in between is a short teaching passage which gets to the heart of the issue. While sharing the parable of the steward with his disciples, the Pharisees have also been listening in. Many of Israel’s religious leaders had become very wealthy. Archaeological digs have identified the ruins of opulent houses which were owned by priests. Land played a large part in their religion; it and the riches it brought them were viewed as a sign of God’s blessing. Luke identifies the Pharisees as those “who love money”. These Pharisees turned their noses up at Jesus’ teaching that one could not serve God and money. Jesus cuts to the chase by focusing in on the condition of one’s heart. The Pharisees were very conscious of looking good in front of others, but Jesus says, “God knows your hearts.”

The whole of this chapter can be wrapped up in the term ‘faithfulness’. Whether we have little or much, God is looking for faithfulness to himself as Master and to his kingdom priorities. What our heart is set upon will be reflected in our actions and attitudes. Tom Wright sums it up nicely. “As soon as we begin to think of money, or land, or other people, as commodities we might own or exploit, we take a step away from our vocation to be truly human begins, God’s true children, and towards the other master, who is always ready to accept new servants.”

Question to Consider
Does our pattern of giving show the condition of our heart?
How do we evaluate what we truly value?
Taking everything Jesus has said into account, can we view earning/saving/spending as a spiritual activity?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you call me to be truly human, reflecting the image of the Father. Please show me the true condition of my heart. Keep me aware of the seductive power that money can have, and help me develop a generosity that mirrors your own, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Jesus’ Stories – Luke 16

Readings for this week August 10 -14
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Jesus Stories - Booklet Cover2

Day 1 – The Law and the Prophets

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:14-18
We return to the Gospel of Luke this week, to the middle of chapter 16. The parable Jesus has just told the Pharisees, about the shrewd manager (verses 1-14, which we will be looking at next week), was essentially to do with a master (God) and his servant (Israel) who is his rather wayward property manager. The servant has failed in his task; what should he do? Be even more of a stickler for the rules (as the Pharisees would advise)? Or throw caution to the wind and make friends where he can (as Jesus would seem to suggest)?

The shrewd manager was a parable about money, using money as an illustrative tool in the service of the wider point about God and his people, followed by teaching about money, which, after verses 15-18, will lead into another story that is both a parable about money and teaching about money.

The Law and the prophets are part of a sequence in God’s plan that continues with the ministry of John the Baptist and then into Jesus’ own ministry, a ministry in which God’s kingdom comes in a new way. Something new is happening with Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that the Law and the prophets are now irrelevant and to be done away with. They are signposts pointing to what God is doing. Jesus will be their fulfilment, not their destruction. The same God who had worked through Moses was now working through Jesus.

Question to Consider
What is your view of the Law and the prophets? What place do they play in our lives now? What is their importance for today?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for your word and for your Son. Thank you for your faithfulness to your people and your creation. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 2 – Everyone Has a Name

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:19-21
What significance should we read into the fact that in no other parable that Jesus tells does he actually name individuals in the story? Is this not a parable then? Is it a case history, a real example using real people that Jesus knows or has heard of? Or does it represent an earlier story, a traditional tale that Jesus is adapting? We don’t know.

But perhaps this naming of Lazarus should make us stop and realise that everyone is someone, everyone has a name. For the rich man, there was no Lazarus, there wasn’t even a real person, just a beggar at his gate. Maybe for us, the many homeless people we see on our streets, or the masses of starving, destitute, poverty-stricken people we see on our TV screens are just that: a mass, a nameless, undifferentiated group of people that we have placed in the category of ‘poor’ or ‘homeless’ or ‘far away’.

Every single person wherever they are, whatever their circumstances is a person, a human being, with a name, a story, a life. Each is a human being with worth, deserving of dignity and bearing the divine image of their Creator. Whatever the reasons that have seen Lazarus reduced to begging at the gate of the rich man, we know nothing of them. Jesus names him and this affirms him as a human being.

Question to Consider
What stops you from seeing people as individuals loved by God? Do you ever put labels on people? Why? How can this be stopped?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me see each individual in this world the way you see them. Forgive the times when I only see the ‘crowd’ or the circumstances rather than the person. Teach me to love all the way you love all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 3 – Selfless, Not Selfish

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:22-24
The rich man was not in torment because he was rich (and neither was the beggar ‘in the bosom of Abraham’ because he was poor). If this were so it would be a bit of a contradiction for Abraham to be shown as righteous, considering how wealthy he was by the end of his life. The rich man was in torment because of his selfishness. All his life he had only lived for himself, and seen his riches as only for his own use and enjoyment. He may have lived a life where he could honestly say “I never hurt anyone.” But he never helped anyone either. He never used what he had been given for the benefit of others. The earlier part of the parable showed us that the rich man did not go out of his way to help Lazarus. Anything Lazarus received were merely the leftovers from the rich man’s table. Actual active charity was not evident. The rich man’s selfishness has put him where he is now; living for himself was enough to condemn him.

The parable is thus a warning about human conduct and attitude. How we use what we are given, even how we view what we are given counts significantly in the eyes of God. How we respond to or fail to respond to other people, especially those in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves, shows how seriously we take the message of our God, and how closely we cleave our thoughts and actions to his heart.

Question to Consider
How are you using what you have for the benefit of others?

Prayer
Almighty God, all I have is yours. Make this a reality for me, not just words. Help me share what I have of yours with all who need it. Make me selfless, not selfish. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 4 – Signs Not Enough

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:27-30
The rich man finally realises that nothing can be done for him, so his attention turns to his brothers. And because he knows that his family do not take seriously the Law and the prophets, something else will be needed in order to get through to them: a messenger from the dead (a common motif in much ancient literature).

This is the first indication we have that the rich man (or should it be dead rich man?) is even capable of thinking of someone other than himself. (Pity it’s too late.) Yet his attitude to Lazarus still shows that not much has changed. He thinks of Lazarus as merely a messenger, someone to be ordered about for his (or his family’s) benefit.

This also exposes the fallacy that seeing wondrous signs will automatically bring people to faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. A friend of mine back in high school used to say that he would believe in God if God gave him some miraculous sign. I used to ask him what made him think he was so special that he would automatically believe. Most people who saw Jesus perform miraculous signs and wonders during his time on earth did not end up as his followers, otherwise there would have been a lot more than just 120 people in the upper room when he appeared to his followers.

Question to Consider
Why do you think people are often so keen for a miraculous ‘sign’? What is the actual purpose of ‘signs and wonders’?

Prayer
Holy God, you are a God of miracles and wonders. But may I never put such signs and wonders ahead of my love and devotion to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 5 – Ambassadors of the Kingdom

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 16:31
We have seen how the parable is a moral tale about riches and poverty, and it should certainly be viewed this way, but not only this way. There is a wider, deeper view of the kingdom that Jesus is revealing here. It’s a parable after all, a story designed to reveal a truth about the reality of God’s coming kingdom.

Hence Jesus’ harsh words to the Pharisees: they were treating the people that Jesus was welcoming into the kingdom the same way that the rich man treated Lazarus. Jesus is urging them to change their ways before it is too late, and they end up like the rich man. He’s exhorting them to act like the steward earlier in the chapter, who, facing the loss of his stewardship, took action just in time to avoid catastrophe.

Otherwise (hint, hint) not even someone rising from the dead will bring them round. This final sentence of the parable highlights two things. Firstly, that Jesus is only asking people to do what Moses and the prophets had always asked them to do: love God and love your neighbour. And secondly, it points towards the way that the mission of Jesus is the culmination and fulfilment of the entire Israel and, ultimately, the world story. Jesus himself, in his death and resurrection, will usher in God’s new age, an age where everything will be put right. An age that we, his followers, are to testify to in the way we welcome others.

Question to Consider
How are you and your community welcoming others into the kingdom of God? What kingdom growth are you seeing in your community?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, may I be a welcoming ambassador of your kingdom, always seeking to invite and welcome in those who do not yet know the king, your son Jesus. In his name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 

 

 

 

Local Missions Week

Readings for this week August 3 – 7
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings
Untitled

Day 1 – Faithful Witness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 13:34-35
We talk alot about ‘community’ or ‘doing life together’. These are terms that may engender warm fuzzies; the hope of inclusion and belonging that we all long for. It may also spell pain and disillusionment. The reality is that community, the call that Jesus extends when he invites individuals to follow him, requires grit, determination, and a commitment to hang in there when the going gets rough.
Christopher Heuertz, who spoke on Sunday, is the leader of a community called Word Made Flesh, and has 20 years of involvement with building communities among the poor and disadvantaged in many countries of the world. His book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community highlights the essence of following Jesus together, but also some of the challenges that threaten to unhinge relationships. His challenge is to recognise the importance of faithfulness in relationships. When it gets difficult will we walk away or do the hard work of relating well? Commitment to the community Jesus established goes beyond holding to a set of beliefs. It must extend to a commitment to each other. Not only when it is comfortable or easy, but also when we are hurt, disappointed, and feel challenged. Such a community of commitment is the sign to a watching world that a life centered on Jesus is a life worth living. Local Mission must never be just an activity we engage in. It must be the reflection of who we are; firstly people commitment to relationships, and committed to a particular place.

Questions to Consider
Do I always expect relationships with people in the church to be easy?
How would I describe ‘community’ to someone unfamiliar with church?
Have past disappointments with people driven me away from establishing real relationships? Do I need to share this with a trusted friend to move past it?

Prayer
Father, you have invited me into a family who gather around you, knowing that we need each other. Help me to be real about who I am, and to learn to accept those around me. May your Spirit be at work among us be seen by those who need to know you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Failure in the Heart of Community

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 22:28-31, 54-62
Jesus has lived, taught, and travelled with his closest followers for 3 years. He has shared his life, his mission, his heart with the twelve disciples. These are the men who have been with him, learning, witnessing his miracles, seeing his care for the crowds, granted insight into his message. Yet Peter, one of the closest to Jesus is about to mess up. Peter does not know himself as Jesus knows him. Yet despite knowing that Peter will strongly deny him in the courtyard of the High Priest, Jesus includes Peter among his community, issuing an invitation to sit at his table in the coming kingdom. Failure in his disciples is no surprise to Jesus.
Unfortunately, our attempts at building community are not always so inclusive. Our ideals of being part of a group of like-minded believers are shattered by the reality of failure in our midst. Unlike Jesus, we are surprised by failure. We are surprised by failure in ourselves and also in others. Consciously or unconsciously we adopt a believing-behaviour-belonging model. In other words, if you can believe as we do and conform to the behaviours we think are right, then you can belong. Jesus turned this paradigm around by encouraging people to belong, to stay close to him. Often as a result behaviours were changed and belief followed.
“To be in community, you must be authentically human. Being authentically human means you will fail… Confession is hard, both making it and hearing it. It requires trust. It necessitates vulnerability. It invites the possibility of forgiveness. Communities that practice failure are communities that know how to forgive.” C Heuertz. This may well be one of our greatest challenges.

Questions to Consider
How easy is it for me to share my failures? Do I expect support or rejection?
Am I prepared to listen openly to a confession rather than brush it under the carpet? What might this communicate to someone who has failed?
What does being ‘authentically human’ look like?

Prayer
Father God, I am so grateful that my failures do not exclude me from relationship with you. Please show me how to extend that same grace to others who are part of my community, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – What About Doubt?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 8:14-29
If we want to engage with people in our local communities we are going to come face to face with many and varied doubts and questions. This can be uncomfortable if we have not reconciled our own relationship with doubt. Likewise if we think we can develop Christian communities devoid of doubt we are bound for disappointed. Too often people walk away from small groups, or church altogether, because of nagging doubts that they cannot reconcile or feel they have nowhere to verbalise. Guilt may be piled on by being told that doubt is the opposite of faith, compounding a sense of unworthiness.
Perhaps one of my favourite passages of scripture is this story of the desperate father who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” So often this is me; I’m guessing it might be you too. What a relief to hear such an honest confession. Certainty is the opposite of faith, not doubt. We must make peace with the fact that faith will of necessity involve mystery. Christopher Heuertz says, “Doubt is necessary for faith. Being out of touch with our doubts is an indication that we’re probably not in touch with the gift of faith.”
Heuertz spent time working in the Home for the Dying with Mother Teresa. Such extreme poverty and suffering raised many doubts, yet at the same time a real experience of God’s presence. In 2007 Mother Teresa’s memoirs were posthumously published. In Mother Teresa: Come be My Light her letters revealed shocking confessions of doubt, profound crises of faith lasting more than fifty years. Rather than diminishing his admiration, Heuertz writes that he felt both relief and increased respect for this remarkable woman. Doubts did not stop her faithful service to the poorest of the poor. Community can help sustain us in times of darkness and doubt. Here we discover that the gift of faith is not for us alone, but can be extended to others in times of doubt.

Question to Consider
Do our communities include spaces for the honest questions we’re afraid to ask?
“Community is an incubator where faith and doubt can coexist” Heuertz. Discuss.

Prayer
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 4 – Becoming the Ordinary Us.

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 8:26-39
This is possibly one of the most dramatic stories in the gospels. A man is living among tombstones, insane, violent, and tormented by demons. Jesus appears, commands the spirits to leave the man and restores him to health. A herd of pigs are drowned and the townspeople take fright and beg Jesus to leave. What a fantastic testimony the delivered man now has. But the end of the story is instructive. He begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus commands him to return to his home, back to ordinary life in the village, and tell what Jesus has done for him.
One of the things that endanger true community and faithfulness in relationships is our tendency to restlessness. We are often drawn by the desire to be significant, important. Whether it is in our vocations or our ministries we easily become bored, frustrated or dissatisfied, looking for greater experiences or new horizons. Working with Mother Teresa, Christopher Heuertz admitted he expected his volunteering to make a significant impact. In reality it mostly consisted of scrubbing floors and endless hand washing laundry. He says, “Most of real life consists of living in the ordinary, in-between times, the space and pauses filled with monotony. Most of life is undramatic. The challenge is to be faithful and consistent, “praying the work” when no one is looking or when there’s no recognition of our contributions.” Like the Gerasene demoniac, “becoming the best version of ourselves often requires that we stay. Stay when things get hard. Stay when we get bored. Stay when we experience periods of unhappiness. Stay when the excitement wears off. Stay when we don’t like those we’re in community with. Stay when we fail or are betrayed. Stay when we know who we can become if we have courage to be faithful in the undramatic.”

Question to Consider
“Be faithful in the small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Discuss this advice from Mother Teresa.
How might ‘praying the work’ help us with the mundane or boring?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me to remain faithful in the mundane places of life. Help me to see you at work in the ordinary and seemingly insignificant, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Celebration Central!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 25:1-9 (Luke 14:15, Rev 19:7-9)
Throughout the gospel of Luke and throughout scripture, the image of hospitality around a meal table is used to picture the kingdom of God and the joy of relationship with the King. Something as ordinary and everyday as eating together pictures the mystery of communion with God and unity among diverse people.
This week we have looked at difficulties that can cause people to turn their backs from involvement with other believers at a deep level. Doing life together can be hard work. But I want to finish the week with a real life encouragement that shows how even small glimpses of the kingdom, seemingly commonplace expressions of shared faith, can witness to a lonely and hurting world.
Last week I was invited to a celebration, about 20 people. A few I knew and many I didn’t; some were from our church, some from different churches and others neighbours. When I arrived an older gentleman opened the front door welcoming us in. Only later did I find out that the man at the door was a relative of the host. “What lovely friends you have” was his comment at the end of the evening. “I think I’d like to visit your church.” No one at the party would have thought we were doing anything out of the ordinary. There was no direct talk about faith, just a celebration of life’s journey and the joys and sorrows of travelling it with others. But for one observer at least, something about ‘community’ attracted him and drew him in. I pray he finds the Saviour at the centre of all true fellowship.
We have much to celebrate as believers. Take time to join with some others and celebrate friendship, food, nature, seasons, milestones, rituals, the common struggle, faith, laughter. C.S. Lewis once said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Let’s make it the hallmark of our adventures in building community.

Question to Consider
Should church life be fun?
How can I build celebrations into my life/my neighbourhood/my small group?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you enjoyed meals, parties, shared time with people. Teach us to be a people who express gratitude and joy for all you have given us, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Jesus’ Stories Luke 18 1-8

Readings for this week July 20 – July 24
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Jesus Stories - Booklet Cover2

Day 1  –  An Exercise in Contrasts

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 18:1-8
Unlike other parables, this is a story of contrasts. It starts with an unjust judge. In Luke’s world, someone who neither feared God nor had any regard for people was seen as thoroughly wicked. How can a character like this teach us anything about God? Remember, this is a study in contrasts. Rather than saying, God is like this… Jesus is saying, God is the complete opposite of this.

Because the widow comes again and again, the judge eventually grants her request. But note, the judge doesn’t act because:

  • It is the right thing to do
  • Because the Old Testament law required it
  • Because he worries about his reputation
  • Because a helpless widow requested it

He is unwilling, begrudging, and slow to act. He acts because it was in his own best interest to do so, simply to get rid of an annoyance; in other words from purely selfish motives.

In sharp contrast, God responds to his people because:

  • He is righteous and acts according to his character
  • He follows through on the promises made in his written word
  • He cares passionately about his people
  • God selflessly comes and suffers pain and death for those he loves

And Jesus’ promise is that when he returns as the Just Judge of all the earth he will hastily bring justice for all. He does not need to be forced; he has promised.

Questions to Consider
How does understanding God’s character help me to pray?

Prayer
Father God, help me to know your character, your trustworthiness and your abundant mercy as I come to pray. May adoration and gratitude build my confidence to come to you with trust and great expectancy, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 2  –  Won’t Quit Widow

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 18:1-7
The unjust judge sits at one end of the continuum of power and privilege. At the other extreme is the ‘Won’t quit Widow’. Usually a male family member would act on behalf of a widow. In coming to court herself she shows she has no one to act on her behalf. In coming continually, she shows she does not have the resources to offer the appropriate bribe to secure a swift settlement. In the scriptures widowhood symbolises the ultimate position of vulnerability, deprived status and need. She is one without aid, without options, utterly vulnerable, one of the least.

Has Jesus chosen this poor, helpless woman to picture the condition of each of us before God? We cannot come with recommendations or resources to offer. We cannot come with force or bribes, hoping to extract our desired goal. We can only come in our recognised poverty, open to the mercy of a loving God. Yet  Jesus depicts this woman acting with astonishing tenacity, not with violence, but in a way that departs from her culturally scripted role. She disregards societies expectations and holds out for justice, even in the face of a corrupt official.

It has been suggested that what Jesus encourages is a sort of ‘holy stubbornness’ that will not let go of God or his promises. The woman goes to the judge because she has no where else to turn. Poverty of spirit, which Jesus called blessed in chapter 6, acknowledges God as the only source of help and mercy. The only one  to turn to again and again.

Questions to Consider
Am I tempted to come to God with ‘bribes’ such as how good I’ve been or how worthy my requests are?
Do I feel embarrassed repeatedly praying for the same things?
What does turning to God again and again teach us?

Prayer
Father, I come to you conscious that I have no right, no leverage, to force you to respond to my prayers. It is your gracious compassion alone that meets my needs. Thank you for drawing me into relationship with you. Thank you that you welcome me each time I come to you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 3  –  Enlarge Your Desires

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 18:1-7
The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge begins in uncharacteristic style with a very clear explanation, the need to “pray always and not to lose heart.” What is easier to miss is that this story is the climax of a longer section where Jesus has been teaching about the coming of his kingdom. Some Pharisees had been asking Jesus when the kingdom would be coming. Jesus turns the question around. In light of his coming, and the certain reality of his kingdom, how will people respond?

The kingdom was not coming as quickly as the disciples expected. Humanly speaking, there seemed some delay. Jesus knew there would be a tendency to doubt and become discouraged, so he urges his followers to persist and persevere by praying; staying connected to the King who will bring the kingdom.

Earlier in Luke Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come…” I wonder what sort of picture they had of Jesus’ kingdom? Whether they grasped it any better than we do? Perhaps anticipating, grappling with, and participating in the coming kingdom is best attained by growing nearer to the King. God knows that our greatest need is God himself. Persevering in prayer, bringing our desires before him, shifts our focus from the trials and tribulations that preoccupy our minds, to the one who has overcome all that the world can throw at us (John 16:33). In fact, one of the reasons our prayers may not be answered immediately is that God desires to enlarge our desires. Only time focused with him can broaden our vision.  “Persistent prayer changes me by helping me see the world, and my life, through God’s eyes. As the relationship progresses I realize that God has a clearer picture of what I need than I do” Philip Yancey.

Question to Consider
How do we come to understand what the kingdom looks like?
How often are my prayers focused on my apparent needs and how often on others/our neighbourhood/our country/the wider world?

Prayer
Father, thank you that you value time spent together. Please open my eyes to what you are doing in the world, and how you want me to be a part of it, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


Day 4  –  Finding Faith

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 18:6-8
Jesus finished his story with a poignant question to his listeners, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke’s gospel holds the beginnings of an answer… “But it may be in unexpected places, as it has been in the gospel – not among the religious professionals or the ones certain of their own righteousness, but among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the ones certain of their sinfulness” Meda Stamper.

We have seen:

  • The friends of the paralytic man who dug through the roof (Ch 4)
  • The Roman centurion whose slave is healed from a distance (Ch 7)
  • The sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much (Ch 7)
  • The bleeding unclean woman who touched Jesus’ clothes (Ch 8)
  • The Samaritan leper who turns back in gratitude (Ch 17)

Jesus is asking, not will he find faith in general, but will he find the tenacious faith demonstrated by the widow. He knew the disciples were going to face persecution. His strategy? “Pray always and do not lose heart” (v1). The Message has it, “Pray consistently and never quit.” This better conveys the strength of Jesus’ encouragement. Jesus is looking for a faith with grit, with backbone. The threat in our own time may not be physical persecution, but rather a laxity borne of comfort and affluence. Again Jesus’ antidote would be “Pray consistently and never quit.” We do not need to worry about God’s faithfulness, only our own.

Question to Consider
Can praying as a small group help develop tenacious, persistent prayer habits?
Jesus seems to value this type of faith. Where do I look for models of God honouring faith? Who can teach or encourage me? Who can I encourage?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, increase my faith. Teach me to turn to you in tough times and persevere when doubt or disappointments arise. Thank you for the examples of men and women in the Bible, in history, in our community who hold tenaciously to you and develop tough, won’t quit faith, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5  –  Two Men in the Temple

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 18:9-14
Jesus tells another parable which needs to be held in tandem with the one before. Again two characters, at either end of social standing, appear in the temple. The Pharisee stands tall and proud to address God! He does not acknowledge the God of heaven with adoration and worship; rather he is full of his own importance. He doesn’t even ask God for anything; he thinks he has life sorted. He is busy pointing the finger at everyone else, assessing his own righteousness in comparison with those he looks down on. By contrast the Tax Collector will not even look up to heaven. His assessment of himself is not through outward success or comparisons, but to look at God’s requirements and acknowledge himself a sinner. This man came to God in utter humility, aware of his need and inner poverty. All he could call on was God’s mercy. This man, said Jesus, went home in good standing with God.

This story must partner the story of the persistent widow. Undoubtedly God wishes us to come to him with a tenacious faith that does not quit. But it must not become presumption. Rather, it must be a faith born of humility. This side of heaven prayer will always be a mystery. God is not a vending machine – one prayer in, one answer out. There is no power in prayer itself; power resides with God alone. While our prayer is perhaps driven by a need or a goal, God primarily desires relationship with us. Humility acknowledges that he is God and I am not, opening the door to relationship. Answers to prayer may follow, but ultimately who we become is the result of prayer. A person prays, said Augustine, “that he himself may be constructed, not that God may be instructed.”

Question to Consider
Do I remember my position before God and who God is before bringing my requests to him?
In prayer, how do I hold together boldness and humility?
Have I given up on praying because I don’t understand it? Can I learn to be comfortable with it being a mystery?

Prayer
Lord, teach me to pray, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Local Missions Week 2015

Readings for this week July 27 – July 31
Click here for a pdf of this weeks readings

Untitled
Day 1 – Jesus’ Last Command

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:16-20
At the very start of his ministry, Jesus declared his calling from God. Today’s reading comes from the very end of his life, after his death and resurrection, and contains some of his last, and most important words to his followers, words that tell us unequivocally what Jesus expects his followers to do.
The task Jesus left us is to serve the world as he did, sharing our faith both as individuals and as a community. His directions are clear – go out into the world, share the good news, make disciples and baptise them into the eternal community.
It’s a huge task but it starts with something pretty simple – telling our own story just as it is. Telling it to the people around us, the people we come across each day, our colleagues, and our neighbours. The whole world is to be told – but sometimes we forget that we can start simply by telling our story to those around us. As we take on this responsibility we need to remember that growing the community of faith is beyond us. Way beyond our means and abilities. Human strength and effort, no matter how many of us are involved, will never be enough. Is this an excuse to walk away? No, rather our lack of ability needs to drive us to deepen our reliance on God. Only God can bring about spiritual change in the lives of individuals and societies. After all he has started that change in us. It is that same power that works through us, and with his help, nothing will be overwhelming.

Question to Consider
What does this last command of Jesus mean to you? How are you implementing this command in your life?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me share your story by telling my story to those around me. Make me a living, breathing advertisement for you and your kingdom. Help me start small. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Joined to a New People

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Ruth 1:1-18
Ruth was a Moabite woman, not a Hebrew. But she decided that she would go with her mother-in-law Naomi no matter what happened. In fact Ruth even said ‘Your people will be my people and your God my God.’ She was prepared to leave her home behind, and her people, and move to a strange land she did not know and live as part of a community she did not know. Why?
Ruth wanted to relocate because she knew God wanted her to. Her desire to stay with Naomi and serve her and support her was more important than her own comfort. Ruth joined with people. She was not a visitor; she became one of them, joining herself to their community, taking on their hopes and dreams and struggles as her own.
Often we think that relocation is just for missionaries, for those ‘special’ people who relocate overseas. This is not the case. We are all missionaries and we are all called to relocate mentally, culturally and geographically in obedience to God’s call. We need to relocate, just as Ruth did, in order to become an ‘each other’ for others, regardless of where. This can happen anywhere: overseas, yes, relocating to another country. But it can also happen locally, in our neighbourhoods as we are committed and joined not just to God, but also committed and joined to a people, just as Ruth was. The people around us count too. We are called to them as well as the whole world. Where they go, we go.

Question to Consider
How are you mentally and culturally reorienting yourself and your life into your local community? Who are you joining in doing this?

Prayer
Loving God, show me my neighbourhood the way you see it and my neighbours the way you see them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Leaving Home for a New Home

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 12:1-7
Today’s reading is about the blessing promised to Abram, and the relocating he needed to do so the blessing could reach the whole world.
The blessing God had for Abram was a blessing that would spread to the whole world, to all peoples. But for this to happen, Abram had to leave his home and move to a new land. Only once this had been done would the great nation God had promised grow from Abram’s family.
And Abram was faithful. He didn’t let his present comfort and wealth stop him from doing what God asked him to do, no matter how scary or unsettling it may have been. He knew that wherever he went, God would be with him. So Abram’s entire community relocated with him; they all moved together.
The call is to go where God directs, not where we are comfortable. Abram left his home for a new home. He took his people and moved to be with another people, creating community both as they travelled and once they arrived at their new home. We are on a journey, like Abram’s, a journey of constantly looking to see where we have been led to and who we meet there. It is a journey of constant encounter, both with the God who sends us and the people he sends us to. It means continually moving from where we are to places where we can bless others.

Question to Consider
Have you considered how God might be directing you to go deeper into your neighbourhood community? Take time to seriously ask him what this means for you.

Prayer
Loving Father, help me to remember that whatever blessing you may give me is to be given to others. Send me where you will, but may I always be a blessing to those around me. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Mission Together

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 10:1-12
We don’t have to relocate alone. It is not a case of each individual follower heading out into the world, just him or her and God against all.
As this passage shows, Jesus sent his disciples out together, in partnership with one another. The church’s long tradition of sending communities out to meet other communities begins here. More can be accomplished when we work together in this way. We can offer strength and encouragement and support to each other and sometimes something as simple as an extra pair of hands.
As we read yesterday, when Abram moved out, his whole community went with him. They all moved together, just as we should move out together too. Going it alone, like a Lone Ranger figure riding off into the sunset by ourselves, is not what God wants us to do.
Today’s passage is a good example of the way the community travels in order to make community; we go together in order to join others where they are, and to grow the community of God’s people there. And we don’t go alone, though Jesus’ disciples went empty-handed, they went with God. God does not leave us alone; he leads us on, guides us along the way and backs up his word with the power to change lives. A loving community is not static; it must move in order to grow.

Question to Consider
Who are the people you are travelling with? How has moving together helped you reach out to others?

Prayer
Almighty God, thank you for giving me a community to be a part of in following you, a community that exists to worship you, but also to grow itself as it invites others to join. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Breaking Down the Barriers

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Acts 10
People can organise themselves into groups in many ways. Often only people with a common interest, a shared ethnicity, or a similar background are allowed in. But God’s community is organised differently.
Some people in the early church were worried about letting Gentile believers in. They tried to insist that converts should adopt the ways and customs of the Jews, including sticking to special diets, and circumcising all males. But God himself played the key role in making sure that his message got to Gentiles as well.
Peter went into the Gentile world at Caesarea in order to invite them to join with God’s people. Some in God’s community resisted this. But that resistance needed to be overcome. When God has offered a place in his community to all people, how can we be prejudiced against some of them?
Through the work of the Spirit and through each other, intolerance and discrimination are to disappear from the community. It is a place for everyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from. Like Peter, we need to put ourselves out there so we can become one with people wherever they may be.

Question to Consider
Do you have meaningful relationships with people who are very different from you? Why or why not?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, your kingdom is for all. If there’s a place for me, there’s a place for anyone. Thank you for your love and acceptance of all. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)