Improve your life with insight from the Bible - 2012
It’s good to seize opportunities when they appear. Some are available for decades, but other opportunities open up just for a few seconds or minutes. If you don’t seize them, they are gone. (Jeremiah 29:7-13, Luke 18:35-43)
Closed minds don’t believe signs (and what you can do about it)
Jesus says closed minds will ignore evidence, even if it is amazing. You can pray that closed minds would be open to the truth of God’s love and mercy. This Bible Study also includes a chance to examine one's goals for the year to see if they match up with your ideas of what is ultimately important. (Luke 16:19-26)
God’s promises always come true, but not always how we expect (so believing the promises can be hard when we’re in the middle of the story). This message ends with a helpful summary of what it's like to live in the middle of the story. (Luke 1:67-71)
God’s promises always come true, but not always how we expect (so believing the promises can be hard when we’re in the middle of the story). (1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Luke 1:31-33)
God’s promises of greatness for you are hard to believe, they're so incredible. The message gives tips for what you should do when you hear of God's amazing plans for your life. (Isaiah 54:1-5, Luke 1:24-25)
Anything is possible for God. What will you do when you hear the promises God has for you? When Zechariah heard his decades-old prayer had been answered, he didn't believe it. This message includes Lawn Maintenance 101. (Luke 1:13-20, Habakkuk 1:5, Zechariah 8:3-6)
Should you cheat to get ahead? Jesus tells a story about a man who did -- and got commended for it. This Bible Study considers the topics of cheating and being faithful with what you have. (Genesis 31:6-9, Luke 16:1-12.)
Jesus told a story that indicates that all God has is yours. It's not because you deserve it. It's because God is generous and loving. This Bible Study address the themes of God's generosity and our appropriate response of thankfulness to such amazing mercy. (Luke 15:25-32, 1 Chronicles 16:8-12)
The religious leaders didn't like the people Jesus was hanging out with. Some of the people Jesus was with had little respect for the church. Some had committed adultery. Some were thieves. Some had lied under oath. Some were fundraisers for the oppressive foreign government. Some were unsavory. Jesus told the leaders complaining about the crowds that God cares about everyone, especially people that others don't value. He gave two examples of how long and hard God searches for such people, then told a story about how fully God accepts people. This week we look at those stories. (Luke 15:1-24, Psalm 51:1-12)
Jesus said that people who want to follow him should count the cost first and be sure they are willing to pay it. And the cost is steep. "None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." For a rich young ruler that Jesus met, that price was too much. The young man left Jesus shocked and grieving. He had wanted to be part of God's kingdom, but he didn't want to give up all he owned. For Abraham and Sarah, giving up all their possessions included giving up their son Isaac and the dream God had given them.
God wants to be first in your life, above all else, even above the promises God has made to you, even above the goals and dreams God has given you. (Luke 14:31-33, Genesis 22:1-12)
Jesus said the kingdom of God was like a wonderful party that some people skipped because they were too busy. But all the food was ready! Jesus said the host of the party worked hard to make sure everybody who was available came to the party, including the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Everyone is welcome at God's party. (Luke 14:15-24, Revelation 19:5-9)
When Jesus was asked if only a few people would be saved at the end of the world, he told people to try to enter God's kingdom through the narrow door, since many who were familiar with God would be locked out of God's kingdom.
The Bible uses the image of Noah's ark as a metaphor: lots of people outside the ark, only a few people in safety inside. This week we'll look at verses related to this theme and discuss what the Bible means by entering heaven through the "narrow door." (Genesis 6:5-7:7, Luke 13:23-27)
Our topic for October 15-20, 2012:
Don't take a break from doing good
(A random question just for fun) What makes you laugh?
Two more serious questions:
What are you doing this week because you follow Jesus?
What would you like help with?
Monday, October 15 Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Moses said the seventh day was to be holy, that is, separate. He said no work should be done on the seventh day by anyone, including one’s livestock. In Exodus 31:12-17, Moses says if anyone disobeyed this command, they were to be killed. You’re probably not so strict.
Do you take a day off once a week?
How much work do you do on your day off?
In what ways is your day off separate from the other days?
In what ways is it just like the others?
Tuesday, October 16 Nehemiah 13:19-21 (NRSV)
When it began to be dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the sabbath. And I set some of my servants over the gates, to prevent any burden from being brought in on the sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, "Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you." From that time on they did not come on the sabbath.
When Nehemiah restored Jerusalem, he found he had to enforce the Sabbath or people would not pay attention to it. He locked the doors to the city so that no merchants could enter – and he promised the vendors at the city gate that they would be punished if they didn’t leave.
How much shopping do you do on your Sabbath?
What do you think about that in light of the command from Monday?
Wednesday, October 17 Luke 13:11-14 (NRSV)
Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."
The leader of the synagogue said healing was work and should not be done on the Sabbath. Jesus reminded the leader that he untied his animals on the Sabbath and led them to water, so Jesus argued that a person bound by Satan should be able to be untied on the Sabbath.
For Jesus, keeping the Sabbath did not mean taking a break from healing people.
Do you ever “take a break” from doing good deeds? How long a break?
Thursday, October 18
Martin Luther’s points about keeping the Sabbath holy, from the Large Catechism, summarized:
1) It doesn’t matter which day you pick. For Christians, Sunday has precedence.
2) The part about abstaining from work is for laborers. . . so they may rest and be refreshed.
3) What makes the day holy is not resting but hearing God's Word, praising God, singing hymns and praying. (Ideally, one should worship God daily; one day a week is minimum.)
4) We listen to God’s Word once a week so we can direct our lives and being according to that Word.
5) The command should not be so strictly interpreted as to forbid incidental work that cannot be avoided.
What parts of Luther’s interpretation do you agree with?
What parts do you disagree with?
What do you have questions about?
Friday, October 19
Some quotes about keeping the Sabbath holy from Luther’s Large Catechism:
The day needs no sanctification for itself; for in itself it has been created holy [from the beginning of the creation it was sanctified by its Creator]. But God desires it to be holy to you. Therefore it becomes holy or unholy on your account, according as you are occupied on the same with things that are holy or unholy.
How, then, does such sanctification take place? Not in this manner, that [with folded hands] we sit behind the stove and do no rough [external] work, or deck ourselves with a wreath and put on our best clothes, but (as has been said) that we occupy ourselves with God's Word, and exercise ourselves therein.
At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all.
Saturday, October 20
Some quotes about keeping the Sabbath holy from Luther’s Large Catechism:
God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose. Therefore not only those sin against this commandment who grossly misuse and desecrate the holy day, as those who on account of their greed or frivolity neglect to hear God's Word or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine; but also that other crowd, who listen to God's Word as to any other trifle, and only from custom come to preaching, and go away again, and at the end of the year know as little of it as at the beginning.
Our topic for October 8-13, 2012:
You are designed to bear fruit
First, a random question, just for fun: What is something good that has happened to you this month?
Monday, October 8 Luke 13:1-3a (NRSV)
“Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.”
People were talking about the news: a tower had fallen over and eighteen people had died. Some were saying the people who died must have deserved it. Their expectation was that when you live right only good things happen to you.
This idea is fostered by some statements in the Bible. But when you read the whole Bible you find out it is more complex than that. The Bible says:
1) Bad actions do have bad consequences. Good actions do have good consequences. That’s why it’s so much better to follow the Ten Commandments than to ignore them.
2) Random events (like earthquakes and weather) also impact your life.
3) Events controlled by other beings also impact your life. (A boy on a block where two gangs are fighting doesn’t have to be in a gang to be injured or killed.)
4) The book of Job, Jesus, and other parts of the Bible uphold the complex idea that living well produces good consequences, but you can’t accurately guess a person’s morality by how well they are doing in life. Sometimes good things happen to bad people. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
Tuesday, October 9 Luke 13:1-3 (NRSV)
“Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
After making his first point, Jesus quickly turns to another. Although during a person’s lifetime you can’t tell from their results what a person’s life has been like, Jesus says there is a judgment coming where justice will be served. At the end of time, people will face judgment for all their actions. And – something the people hadn’t guessed – Jesus says everyone will fall under judgement. Unless people repent, Jesus says, everyone will suffer die.
What do you think of Jesus statement that “unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did”?
Wednesday, October 10 Luke 13:4-9 (NRSV)
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’"
Sometimes people think the blessings in their life are rewards for their working hard or making great choices or doing great things. But Jesus says sometimes people are rewarded because they haven’t been doing great things. The gardener decides to pour far more resources on a tree in an attempt to revive it. It’s not because the tree was doing well, but because it was doing so poorly that the tree gets extra attention and resources. The gardener is giving the tree one last chance to produce the fruit it was designed for.
What kind of fruit do you think you were made to produce?
How productive are you?
How happy do you think the gardener is with the results of your life so far?
Thursday, October 11 Genesis 1:27-31 (NRSV)
God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
When God created life, God commanded it to be fruitful.
Today we have a second chance to reflect on the questions from Wednesday.
What kind of fruit do you think you were made to produce?
How productive are you?
How happy do you think the gardener is with the results of your life so far?
Friday, October 12 Psalm 92:12-15 (NRSV)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Is this Psalm true in your experience?
How do you think it works in the light of the discussion on Monday?
Saturday, October 13 Galatians 5:22b-23 (NRSV)
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
Paul identifies fruit that will grow when you are filled with God’s Spirit.
Today we have one last chance to reflect on the questions from Wednesday.
What kind of fruit do you think you were made to produce?
How productive are you?
How happy do you think the gardener is with the results of your life so far?
And two more: How happy are you with your current state? What will you do about it?
Our topic for October 1-7, 2012:
Know how to interpret the present time
Jesus said people were good at predicting the weather based cloud patterns, but they misread signs that would let them know what kind of an age they were living in.
That's too bad! You can make costly mistakes if you miss or misread the signs around you.
This weeks' Bible study will look at verses that relate to this topic.
First, a random question just for fun: What is your favorite restaurant?
Monday, October 1 Jeremiah 1:11-14 (NRSV)
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Jeremiah, what do you see?" And I said, "I see a branch of an almond tree." Then the LORD said to me, "You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it."
The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, "What do you see?" And I said, "I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north." Then the LORD said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land.”
The first part of this passage makes more sense in Hebrew. It is a play on words. Jeremiah sees an almond branch (shaqed) and God says God is watching (shoqed). The two words are the same except for the middle vowel.
What has God said to you that seemed really, really clear?
What has God said to you that you are not sure what it means?
Tuesday, October 2 Daniel 2:26-28 (NRSV)
The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, "Are you able to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?" Daniel answered the king, "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days.”
Daniel tells the king that God is the source of revelation. If you have something you can’t figure out, ask God for help. The gift of interpretation is one of the gifts of God’s Spirit.
What are some things that are mysteries to you? (What are some things you can’t figure out?)
Wednesday, October 3 Luke 12:56 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Jesus told people they were good at forecasting the weather, but lousy at forecasting the present day.
Forecasting the weather in San Diego is fairly easy. But what is your interpretation about our present time?
Thursday, October 4 Proverbs 2:6-11 (NRSV)
The LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.
Proverbs says God gives wisdom. When wisdom comes into your heart, “you will understand righteousness and justice and equity.” It’s worth it to ask God for wisdom!
Friday, October 5 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 (NRSV)
We speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Some things about God’s kingdom remain hidden until God’s Spirit reveals them.
After you ask God for wisdom, what do you think are some things you should be doing in light of this present time (see Wednesday)?
What are some things you think the church should be doing in light of this present time?
Saturday, October 6 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NRSV)
And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
God, help us to understand spiritual things. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for Sept 24 - Sept 29, 2012:
With great power comes great responsibility. - Uncle Ben (and Jesus)
Peter Parker's Uncle Ben (and Jesus) said that with great power comes great responsibility. When Jesus told this to his disciples, he was talking about what things would be like when the Son of Man appeared. This week we'll consider verses relating to that topic.
(A random question just for fun) What is your favorite scenic area?
Monday, September 24 Psalm 57:9-11 (NRSV)
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.
It’s good to take time out to praise God for what God has done and for who God is.
What reasons do you have to be grateful to God?
What aspects of God’s glory are you thankful for?
Tuesday, September 25 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSV)
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Who do you hope to meet in heaven?
Do you know anyone who might be encouraged by Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians?
Wednesday, September 26 Revelation 1:4-7 (NRSV)
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
What are some reasons all the tribes of the earth might wail when they see Jesus’ return?
Thursday, September 27 Luke 12:39-40 (NRSV)
"Know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
What do you think it means to be ready for the return of Jesus?
How ready are you?
Friday, September 28 Luke 12:40-46 (NRSV)
“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?"
And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.
What do you think this story means?
What role(s) do you identify with? (Faithful slave, unfaithful slave, unfaithful outsider, other)
Saturday, September 29 Luke 12:47-48 (NRSV)
“That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben put it simply: With great power comes great responsibility.
The power Jesus talks of in this passage is the power of knowing what God wants, and the power of knowing that the Son of Man is coming. How do you think this applies to you?
Our topic for Sept 18 - Sept 22, 2012:
Strive for God's kingdom. You'll have enough.
Jesus told his followers they should strive for God's kingdom. This week we'll look at verses exploring this topic.
(First, a random question, just for fun) What is something you’ve laughed at recently?
Monday, September 17 Psalm 27:1-5 (NRSV)
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
David had plenty he could have been afraid of – Saul, Saul’s army, and other adversaries, for example. But David says he has nothing to fear since God is his light and salvation.
Could you have written this psalm?
Tuesday, September 18 Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul tells the Philippians not to worry. About anything!
What kinds of things do you worry about?
How will you let your requests about these things be known to God?
What do you think it means to offer “supplication with thanksgiving”? How will you do that?
Wednesday, September 19 Luke 12:22-26 (NRSV)
[Jesus] said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
Jesus says it is pointless to worry since 1) it doesn’t accomplish anything and 2) God knows your needs. So here’s a repeat question from Tuesday: What kinds of things do you worry about?
How will you trust God with these things?
Thursday, September 20 Luke 12:27-31 (NRSV)
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you--you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
What do you think it means to strive for God’s kingdom?
How much of your time do you spend striving after what you will eat and drink?
How much do you spend striving after God’s kingdom? Are you happy with the balance?
Friday, September 21 - Luke 12:32-34 (NRSV)
[Jesus said,] "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What are some of the top things that you treasure?
What does your list of things that you treasure tell you about where your heart is?
Saturday, September 22 - Deuteronomy 8:3-6 (NRSV)
[God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the LORD your God disciplines you. Therefore keep the commandments of the LORD your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
When the people of Israel were wandering in the desert, they might have wanted a few new things. But what they had lasted. Their clothes didn’t wear out. God was showing them mercy and trying to teach them a valuable lesson about God’s amazing provision.
Is there anything you’ve been complaining about in your life?
Is it possible that, instead of it being a negative thing, it’s God’s provision for you?
If you realized that things you were complaining about were really ways God was trying to bless you, how would you think differently about them?
Our topic for Sept 10 - Sept 15, 2012:
Be rich (but don't forget God)
(First, two random questions for your discussion group, just for fun)
Who is a famous person you admire? Who is someone not famous that you admire?
Monday, September 10 - Genesis 41:47-49 (NRSV)
During the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly. [Joseph] gathered up all the food of the seven years when there was plenty in the land of Egypt, and stored up food in the cities; he stored up in every city the food from the fields around it. So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.
There’s nothing wrong with storing goods for the future – even storing in great abundance. Joseph, one of the heroes of the Bible, got an entire county to do it, in preparation for a famine.
How much provision do you have for famine or disaster (insurance, extra food, extra income)?
How comfortable are you with how much you have stored up?
Tuesday, September 11 - Ecclesiastes 2:18-21a (NRSV)
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me - and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.
Solomon, in his day, was the wisest man in all the world. But he made a lot of stupid decisions. He tried to find pleasure in things that God told him he needed to avoid, and he wound up depressed and empty. (If you avoid God’s good path and try to take another, you may find momentary happiness and pleasure. But it never lasts, and soon is replaced by the emptiness that results from missing out on the much better thing that God had intended you to receive.)
One thing that bothered Solomon was that he realized he was going to die and leave his wealth to someone who didn’t work for it.
What have you inherited or been given as free gifts - by family? - by friends? - by God?
(If you say, “nothing,” you’re leaving off your good looks and your great personality.
What other things have you inherited or been given for free?)
What kinds of things are you passing on to others?
Wednesday, September 12 - Proverbs 1:15-19 (NRSV)
My child, do not walk in [the way of people who steal], keep your foot from their paths;
for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood.
For in vain is the net baited while the bird is looking on;
yet they lie in wait—to kill themselves! and set an ambush—for their own lives!
Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.
Proverbs says greed “takes away the life of its possessors.” Maybe you can see how this is true, since greedy people are never content with what they have (no matter how much they have).
Where are you on the scale of “Being contented with what you have” / “Being greedy for more”?
Think about this question in terms of:
* your finances
* your house
* your family relationships
* your walk with God
* your physical being
* your main roles in life
Some people fight long and hard for things – more money, more influence, better relationships, more justice for people, etc. Do you think that people that are ambitious for more are greedy?
How do you tell the difference (if any) between greed and ambition?
Thursday, September 13 - 1 Corinthians 5:11 (NRSV)
I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.
Paul frequently wrote to the churches warning believers to avoid greed. (See as other examples Ephesians 5:3-5, Colossians 3:5, and 1 Timothy 1:7.) Most people’s definition of greed is on a sliding scale: e.g., someone who has 100 times more than me, as in “The amount of shoes in my closet is not greedy, but someone who has 100 times more than me, well, maybe that would be too much.” For some people, 100 times as much might be what they aspire to, and for them what’s greedy might be 10,000 times more than they have. But you get the idea.
How do you think God defines greed? How do you think your behavior stands up in God’s eyes?
Friday/Saturday, September 14-15 - Luke 12:15-20 (NRSV)
[Jesus said,] “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
How much treasure have you stored up?
How rich are you towards God?
Which of these week's verses are you still thinking about?
What would you like to talk to God about?
(You can talk to God any time you want!)
Our topic for Sept 3 - Sept 8, 2012:
Acknowledge Jesus before others
(A random question for your discussion group, just for fun) What is your favorite television show?
Monday, September 3 - Deuteronomy 11:2-7 (NRSV)
Remember today that it was not your children (who have not known or seen the discipline of the LORD your God), but it is you who must acknowledge his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and to all his land; what he did to the Egyptian army, to their horses and chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued you, so that the LORD has destroyed them to this day; what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place; and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab son of Reuben, how in the midst of all Israel the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households, their tents, and every living being in their company; for it is your own eyes that have seen every great deed that the LORD did.
In Deuteronomy 11, the people are instructed that their lives should be based on what they have seen and heard God doing throughout their lives.
What are times you have thought God was especially with you?
Prayer: God, help us to clearly remember the many things you have done for us. Help us to praise you and to live in confidence because of the memory of all you have already done for us. Thank you. Amen.
Tuesday, September 4 - Psalm 9:1-2 (NRSV)
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Today we’re continuing with Monday’s theme (it's always a good time to talk about God's greatness):
What are some of things that you are thankful for?
What are some of God’s wonderful deeds that you are grateful for?
Prayer: Thanks God for giving us so much to be grateful for and so many reasons to sing praise to your name. Amen.
Wednesday, September 5- 2 Timothy 2:10-13 (NRSV)
I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
What do you think Paul means “If we have died with him, we will also live with him?”
Paul says “If we deny him, he will also deny us.” Do you know any people denying that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ)?
God, help more people to become aware of Jesus and what he has done. Thank you. Amen.
Thursday, September 6 - Luke 12:8-9 (NRSV)
I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.
Jesus puts it into black and white. Where do you think you stand?
Prayer: God, help me to acknowledge Jesus before others. Thank you. Amen.
Friday, September 7 - Luke 9:18-20 (NRSV)
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God."
Of all the disciples, Peter is the first to identify Jesus as the Messiah. He is praised for it in Matthew 16:17-18.
Who do you think Jesus is?
When given a chance to say who you think Jesus is, do you respond quickly, like Peter, or hold back, like the other 11 disciples?
Prayer: God, help me to see Jesus as he is. Thank you. Amen.
Saturday, September 8 - Luke 22:54 (NRSV)
They seized [Jesus] and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.
Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him."
A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"
Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.
Peter was in the courtyard of the people who were trying to kill Jesus. In that risky place, Peter had three chances to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus. Peter didn’t want his identity to be known in such a dangerous environment, so three times he said he didn’t know Jesus.
What are some times that you have had an opportunity to identify yourself as a Christian that have hidden your identity?
What do you think of Peter’s denial in the context of what Jesus said in Thursday’s lesson?
Prayer: God, help me to acknowledge Jesus every time it would be good to do so. Thank you. Amen.
Bonus verses: See Peter’s testimony in Acts 2:14-40. Peter didn’t deny Jesus for long.
Our topic for Aug 27 - Sept 1, 2012:
Fear God (but don't be afraid)
When messengers of God appear, their first words are often, "Don't be afraid." But some parts of the Bible encourage people to fear God. This week we'll look at verses on the topic.
(Two random questions for your discussion group, just for fun)
What is your favorite sport (to participate in)?
What is your favorite sport (to watch)?
Monday, August 27 – Genesis 15:1 (NRSV)
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
The most common opening statement from one of God’s messengers is “Don’t be afraid.” Often people are told not to be afraid of their circumstances. (See Genesis 21:17, 26:24, 46:3; Numbers 21:34; Isaiah 41:10 and Revelation 1:17 as examples.)
What circumstances are you afraid of?
What do you think God would say to you about them?
Prayer: God, help me to trust you in all things. Thank you. Amen.
Tuesday, August 28 -
Exodus 3:6 (NRSV)
[God] said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Sometimes people are afraid when they see the holiness of God. For other examples, see Exodus 20:18, 2 Samuel 6:9.
What do you think God is like?
What is your main attitude towards God?
Prayer: God, help me to have an appropriate reaction when I see you and your holiness. Thank you! Amen.
Wednesday, August 29 - Genesis 3:10 (NRSV)
[Adam] said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."
Often sin causes us to be afraid of God. It’s worth it to continually confess your sin and boldly approach God’s throne of grace.
Prayer: God, help us to quickly confess our sin and run to you. Thank you. Amen.
Thursday, August 30- Psalm 33:5-8 (NRSV)
The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
Prayer: God, thank you that all the earth is full of your love. Help us to experience it and spread it. And help us to fear you and stand in awe of you. Thank you. Amen.
Friday, August 31 - Deuteronomy 13:4 (NRSV)
The LORD your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast.
What do you think it means that we should fear God alone?
What makes you afraid? How well are you doing in fearing God alone?
Prayer: God, help us to follow you, fear you alone, keep your commandments, obey your voice, serve you and hold fast to you. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Amen.
Saturday, September 1 - Luke 12:5 (NRSV)
[Jesus said:] I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Who do you think Jesus was referring to?
Given that we are told not to be afraid, what do you think it means to fear the one who has authority to cast into hell?
Prayer: God, help us to be fearless when that would be best and fearful when that would be best. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for Aug 19 - Aug 25, 2012:
What's most important? Do that!
Jesus commended the religious leaders of his day for getting something right: they were focused on doing things correctly, even in the smallest detail. But, he said, they were missing the big picture. In focusing on the small stuff, they missed what was the most important: doing justice and loving God.
This week our Bible study will examine some of the verses related Jesus' comments.
Monday, August 20 – Luke 11:42 (NRSV)
"Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.
By giving a tithe (ten percent) of even mint and rue and herbs to God, the Pharisees were being very precise. Jesus said that was good ("these you ought to have practiced") but not sufficient. It's very helpful to pay attention to small details - unless you miss what's most important. The Pharisees got so focused on the small things they forgot justice and the love of God.
This week we'll look at the topics Jesus raises in this verse. To help you get started:
1) What are your main roles in life? (List up to seven, e.g., parent, spouse, employee, surfer, Christian, etc.)
2) For each of the roles write down what's most important.
3) For each of the roles, write down what's important to do today.
4) How are you doing in each of the roles?
5) Where do you need help?
You'll get a lot out of this exercise if you add to it throughout the week as ideas come to mind. It will be especially helpful to have two or three friends work on their answers and then compare notes and pray for each other.
Don't just read about doing this. Get out a pen and paper and do the exercise! It'll be fun and it'll help you learn lots.
Tuesday, August 21 – Malachi 4:10-12 (NRSV)
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
A tithe is 10 percent of your income. People were told to bring a gift of ten percent of their income to God's house to support the ministry. In response, God promised to pour down an overflowing blessing and to rebuke things that might destroy what you have.
Admittedly, it can be hard to imagine that God is big enough or faithful enough to provide for you if you give up ten percent of your income. But God says to test God and see if it doesn't work. Jesus said we should tithe even small things like rue and mint and herbs.
1) Have you tried tithing (giving ten percent of your income to God)? What happened?
2) If you haven't tried tithing, why not?
Wednesday, August 22 – Psalm 109:1-3 (NRSV)
Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Who can utter the mighty doings of the LORD, or declare all his praise?
Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.
What are you grateful for?
What will you give thanks to God about?
What are ways you observe justice and do righteousness?
Thursday, August 23 Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (NRSV)
So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.
Moses says God only requires five things.
1) Fear the LORD
2) Walk in all God's ways
3) Love God
4) Serve God with all your heart and soul
5) Keep the commandments
Sounds simple enough. Until you realize the commandments mentioned in #5 run on for dozens and dozens of pages. Yikes! Who can keep all that much in mind at once? (This may be why Jesus simplified things: Love God with everything you've got. Love your neighbor as yourself.)
What do you think God requires of you?
How well are you doing at it?
Friday, August 24 Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)
With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
In your life of faith, Micah says you can't buy yourself into God's favor. (You already have it.) He says instead it's important to do some simple, main things: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
What are some ways you can do justice?
What are some ways you can exhibit kindness?
What are some ways you can walk humbly with God?
Take another look at your grid from Monday. Have you taken action this week on the most important things?
Are there any changes you'd make to your roles or ideas of what's most important?
Saturday, August 25 Hebrews 11:30-34 (NRSV)
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
People were able to do amazing things - including administering justice - by faith.
What stories of faith have inspired you?
What have you done by faith?
(If people said you were crazy for doing something, that's a clue!)
Our topic for Aug 12 - Aug 18, 2012:
Be filled with light
Jesus says your whole body can be filled with light. This week we'll reflect on a few things the Bible says about that.
Print out the verses for this week and put them on your bathroom mirror, breakfast table or someplace you’ll see them. You’ll get more out of these scriptures if you read and think about them several times a day. Discuss the questions at our Bible Study Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. or at family devotions or call a couple friends and ask them to discuss the questions with you. When you sign up for our newsletter (at the top of the page in yellow on the right) you'll get questions for the week each Monday about 2 p.m.
(A random question, just for fun) What is a movie you have enjoyed?
Monday, August 6
Genesis 1:1-5 (NRSV)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
The first story in the Bible is about God creating life on earth. As the story begins, the earth is a formless void. The first thing on God’s agenda is to create light (and, as a consequence, day and night). Curiously, the sun, moon and stars are not created until the fourth day of the story – in other words, the story says there is a kind of light that doesn’t rely on the sun for existence.
What do you think about the concept that there is a kind of light that is different from the light of the sun?
What parts of creation do you appreciate the most?
Prayer for the day: God, thank you for creation, and thank you for the gift of light. Amen.
Tuesday, August 14
Luke 11:34-36 (NRSV)
[Jesus said,] “Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays."
What do you think Jesus means when he says a person’s body can be full of light?
How full or empty do you think you are?
What do you think you can do to be filled with more light?
Prayer for the day: God, help my body to be full of light, with no part in darkness. Thank you. Amen.
Wednesday, August 15
1 John 1:5-7
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
God, help me to walk in the light as you are in the light, and let the blood of Jesus cleanse us from all sin. Thank you. Amen.
Thursday, August 16
Psalm 36:7-9 (NRSV)
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
The psalmist says in God’s light we see light. What do you think this means?
God, help us to be in your light and to see light. Thank you. Amen.
Friday, August 17
John 1:1-5 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Reflection question: What do you think it means that the life Jesus brought was "the light of all people"?
God, let the light of Christ shine in us brightly. Thank you! Amen.
Saturday, August 18
2 Corinthians 4:4-6 (NRSV)
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul says the light of the gospel can be hidden from people; that the god of this world has blinded people’s minds. Before you talk to someone about Jesus (or even about what might be good for them), it would probably be good to ask God to help them to see the truth.
God, help us to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. And help us to share your light with others. Thank you. Amen.
Preview for Sunday, August 19
Visit La Jolla Lutheran Church on August 19 to hear a great message titled "What's most important? Do that!"
Our topic for Aug 5 - Aug 11, 2012:
God has mercy. Ask for it.
Jesus said the only sign that would be shown to people of his day was the sign of Jonah, who was swallowed by a great fish for three days and three nights. The story of Jonah is the topic of our Bible readings for this week.
Print out these verses and put them on your bathroom mirror, breakfast table or someplace you’ll see them. You’ll get more out of these scriptures if you read and think about them several times a day. Discuss the questions at our Bible Study Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. or at family devotions or call a couple friends and ask them to discuss the questions with you. When you sign up for our newsletter (at the top of the page in yellow on the right) you'll get questions for the week each Monday about 2 p.m.
(Two random questions, just for fun)
What is one of your favorite secular songs?
What is one of your favorite Christian songs?
Monday, August 6
Jonah 1:1-3 (NRSV)
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Reflection question: What has God asked Christians to do that you’ve tried to avoid?
Prayer for the day: God, help me to quickly and joyfully do what you tell me! Thank you! Amen!
Tuesday, August 7
Jonah 1:17-2:10 (NRSV)
The LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah;
and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”
Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.
Have you ever gotten into trouble for choices you’ve made?
What was it like?
Have you ever gotten out of a tight spot?
What was it like?
Prayer for the day: When I have done wrong, God, help me to quickly repent. Thank you! Amen.
Wednesday, August 8
Psalm 139:7-14a (NRSV)
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Jonah tried to run from God. He eventually discovered he couldn’t get away from God’s mercy.
The Psalm says the same is true for us: there is nowhere we can go to get away from God’s mercy.
How do you feel about this?
Prayer for the day: God, thank you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made! Amen!
Thursday, August 9
Jonah 3:4-10 (NRSV)
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk.
And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
. . . When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Have you known anyone (or heard about anyone) who turned his/her life around?
Prayer for the day: God, thank you for your mercy! Amen!
Friday, August 10
Jonah 4:9-11 (NRSV)
[Jonah was watching to see if God would destroy the Ninevah. When a plant that shaded Jonah died, he began sulking.]
God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Who do you naturally have mercy for?
Who do you want to watch fry?
What do you think God thinks about these people?
Prayer for the day: God, help us to have as much mercy for others as you do. Thank you. Amen.
Saturday, August 11
Luke 11:29-32 (NRSV)
When the crowds were increasing, [Jesus] began to say,
“This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign,
but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.
For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh,
so the Son of Man will be to this generation.
. . . The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it,
because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah,
and see, something greater than Jonah is here!”
Jesus said that the sign of Jonah that he was referring to was Jonah being three days and three nights in the great fish. (When Jesus died, he was buried three days before he was resurrected on Easter.)
What do you think people should learn from the story of Jonah?
Prayer for the day: God, help us to recognize the sign of Jonah. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for July 29 - Aug 4, 2012:
Replace bad habits with good habits.
It’s possible to get rid of a bad habit. But it won’t go away without a fight. And it won’t ever wander too far away, either. It’ll keep coming back, especially in times of stress, to see if you will let it back into your life.
Related to this, Jesus told a story with the point that if you let an evil spirit back into your life, things will get worse. Way worse.!
Researchers say to be free of bad habits, you need to replace them with good habits and you need to rely on God's help in times of stress.
God, help us to be free of all that’s not of you, and help us to fill our lives with good things. Thank you. Amen.
Here are some scriptures on this topic for you to ponder this week. Print them out and put them on your bathroom mirror, breakfast table or someplace you’ll see them. You’ll get more out of these scriptures if you read and think about them several times a day. Discuss the questions at our Bible Study Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. or at family devotions or call a couple friends and ask them to discuss the questions with you. When you sign up for our newsletter (at the top of the page on the right) you'll get questions for the week each Monday about 2 p.m.
(A random question to talk about) What was a vacation you fondly remember? What made it memorable?
Monday, July 30, 2012 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NRSV)
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
For similar passages, see Matthew 15:18-20, Colossians 3:4-8, Galatians 5:16-25 and Revelation 21:6-8.
What action steps will you take based on these passages? How will they affect your life? How will they affect your response to other people?
Prayer for the day: God, help us to be washed, sanctified and justified in the name of Jesus Christ and in your Spirit. Thank you. Amen.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 Luke 11:24-26 (NRSV)
Jesus told a story in Luke 11:24-26. He said: "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."
Brain research shows that the neural pathways for bad habits remain, even if we have stopped the bad behavior. If a person doesn’t replace the habit with something else, the habit will often return in a moment of stress.
Do you know anyone who has been freed from an addiction or bad habit but returned to it later?
What can you do to keep this from happening to you?
What bad habits do you want to replace with good habits?
Prayer for the day: God, set us free from evil and sin, and help all the spaces of our lives to be filled with good things, so sin has no room to return to. Thank you. Amen.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012 Genesis 4:6-7 (NRSV)
The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."
God told this to Cain when he was on his way to kill his brother. The implication is that you can always make a different choice, no matter how worked up you are and no matter how committed you are to your plans.
Does it help you in your struggle with sin to realize that sin is trying to master you? (You’re not fighting yourself, you’re fighting a real and cruel adversary.)
What are some places in your life where you need to hear this word from God that you must overcome sin?
What will help you overcome it?
Prayer for the day: God, help me to overcome sin and temptation. Thank you. Amen.
Thursday, August 2, 2012 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NRSV)
We live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
How easy is it for you to “take every thought captive”?
What are some techniques that work for you to take thoughts captive?
Prayer for the day: God, let our thoughts be in line with yours, giving you honor and glory. Thank you. Amen.
Friday, August 3, 2012 Psalm 38:17-22 (NRSV)
I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me;
Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.
Our lives would be better if we never sinned. But everyone does. Jesus died to free us from the consequences of our sins. When you fall, quickly ask God for help.
What areas of your life do you need help with?
Prayer for the day: God, thank you for saving me and rescuing me when I am ready to fall. Amen.
Saturday, August 4, 2012 Hebrews 4:12-16 (NRSV)
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Prayer for the day: God, thank you that we can find mercy and grace when we approach your throne. Help us to be filled with your Holy Spirit, and help us to do your will. Thank you. Amen.
Which of the verses for the week are you still thinking about?
Our topic for July 22-28, 2012:
Persist. The door will open.
When John the Baptist taught his disciples a prayer, one of Jesus' disciples asked Jesus what he would recommend. Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Then Jesus encouraged his followers to ask for what they wanted and to keep asking. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."
(You can read this in Luke 11:1-10.)
When you know what you want, keep pursuing it. If it's worth getting, it's worth persisting for.
Some questions for your family dinner table, starting with a random question just for fun:
0) What vegetable do you like best? Why?
1) How often do you pray the Lord’s Prayer (the prayer mentioned above that Jesus taught his disciples)?
2) What prompts you to say it? (Bedtime? Mealtime? Disaster? Something else?)
3) What line in it do you like the best?
4) How could you pray the prayer in a way that made it more meaningful to you?
5) Extra Credit: Each day this week, take just one phrase from the prayer and think about it all day long. Monday you could pray, “Father,” all day, remembering that God is your creator. Tuesday you could pray, “Holy is your name” all day. Etc.
your name is holy.
Reign in our lives and in the world.
Give us what we need this day
Forgive us all we’ve done wrong.
We forgive everyone who has wronged us.
Do not bring us to the time of trial.
Our topic for July 15-21, 2012:
Don't be distracted. Focus on Jesus.
The Bible is all in favor of people working. There are lots and lots and lots of examples. The Bible says work leads to good rewards and you'll be judged by the results of what you do. Paul writes those who don't work shouldn't eat. Proverbs says, "How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior."
Get to work! It's all over the pages of the Bible.
Then Jesus went to Martha and Mary's house. Mary wasn't doing any work, just sitting around, listening to Jesus. Martha was stuck with getting everything ready. She complained. And Jesus sided with Mary. Martha was told she was distracted, and Mary had made a better choice.
Some questions for your dinner table this week:
1) What kinds of things do you like to work on?
2) Are you more like Martha, distracted by work and serving Jesus but not sitting with him? Or more like Mary, sitting with Jesus and not doing much?
3) What do you think Jesus would say to someone who did no work?
4) What do you think Jesus would say to you?
God, help us to not be distracted. Help us to hear what Jesus says. And help us to work and rest in the right balance. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for July 8-14, 2012:
Anyone in need is your neighbor (but don't be a sap)
This week we'll talk about one of the most beloved (and misunderstood) stories of Jesus.
A lawyer came to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said he already knew the answer: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
Do you want a great life? Jesus says the key is to love God with all you've got, love yourself, and love your neighbor. Simple enough!
But the lawyer was hoping to find a loophole or two. So he asked Jesus who counted as his neighbor.
Jesus told the story of a man beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of a road. A pastor walked by, saw the man, and crossed the street to avoid him. So did a worship leader. But when an Oakland Raiders fan came by, he had pity, cleaned up the man's wounds, took him to rehab and paid for his care.
Jesus asked the lawyer: "Which of the three behaved like a neighbor to the man?" "The one who showed mercy," said the lawyer. He didn't want to say the nice Raiders fan was the good guy. Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
In Jesus' view, your neighbor is anyone you see in need. Love that person. Love yourself. And love God with everything you've got. That's the key to life.
As far as we know, Jesus left off a common sense part of the story that many people today also need to hear. Don't be a sap.
Here's how it works: Jesus says you're supposed to love your neighbor (anyone you see in need). You come to a house where a robber is struggling to walk away with the giant screen tv. The robber can't carry the tv any farther on his own. He begs for your help. He's clearly in need. He wants your help. He's begging. You've got to follow Jesus, right? So you help the robber carry the big screen tv, the computer, the silverware, the sofa. . . . you strip a house bare. Does that sound like what Jesus intended?
(If you can't answer that question, you need to spend time at Bible study with us Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.)
This Sunday we'll talk about one of the biggest traps for people who try to follow what Jesus said in this story about being a good neighbor: they get played by unscrupulous, mean and evil people.
Do what Jesus says. Love your neighbor. But don't be a sap. Give people what they need, not what they ask for. The point is to love them. A robber needs to amend his life, not to get help robbing.
Some questions for your family dinner table this week:
1) Jesus said a key to life was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, that is, with everything you've got. How are you doing so far?
2) Jesus said a second key to life was to love yourself. How are you doing so far?
3) Jesus said the last key to life was to love those you see in need. When are you like the pastor who went out of his way to avoid loving the man in need? When are you like the Raiders fan who helped out?
4) When someone asks for help, do you give them what they really need? (Do you love them)? Or do you just give them what they ask for, even if it's bad for them?
5) Where do you think you are on the scale below?
"never helps neighbors" . . . . . . . . .."acts like a sap" . . . . . . . "loves people (and gives them what they really need)"
God, help us to love you with everything we've got. Help us to love ourselves, and help us to love people we see in need. But give us wisdom so our actions are pleasing to you. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for July 1-7, 2012:
Ask God for laborers for the harvest
There's lots that can go wrong in farming. The weather can be too wet or too dry, too cold or too hot. Pests and many other variables all can impact the crop in negative ways. But a farmer can get all the way to the end of the season, with a great crop out in the fields, and still experience failure because there aren't not enough laborers to bring in the harvest.
Jesus said God's kingdom was like that. He said it was ready ripe and ready to be harvested, but there weren't enough laborers. He toldhis followers to go out and help and told them to ask God for more laborers. You can read about this in Luke 10:1-20.
Here's some questions for your family dinner table:
1) Do you think it’s still true that "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few"?
2) When have you clearly heard the message about God or Jesus or God's kingdom?
3) When in your life have you told someone about God, God's kingdom, or Jesus?
4) What are the best examples for you of people who tell others about God, God's kingdom, or Jesus?
5) What keeps you from talking to more people about God’s love for them?
Our topic for June 24-30, 2012:
Go and proclaim God's kingdom
In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus made it clear to people who wanted to follow him that his followers had no way of knowing from day to day where they'd be or what they'd be doing. But he said that anyone who wanted to follow him needed to start right away, with no excuses.
Some questions for your family dinner conversation:
1) When someone said they would follow Jesus wherever he went, Jesus replied that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. (Luke 9:57-58). In other words, if you place a high value on comfort and certainty, you may not be able to follow Jesus wherever he goes. How much does this thought challenge you? Is it easy for you to follow Jesus, knowing that you can't be certain where you’ll wind up each day?
2) When someone wanted to put off following Jesus, he was told to not wait. (Luke 9:59-60) What do you think about Jesus’ radical call to drop everything and follow him? Have you been putting off following Jesus' radical call until something happens (the kids are grown, you’ve finished school, etc.)? How much are you waiting for "a better time" to do something for Jesus?
3) When someone wanted to say goodbye to friends and family, Jesus told the person that following him meant complete commitment, with no time for anything else. (Luke 9:61-62) Jesus gave the person the image of someone plowing, where a person needs to keep looking straight ahead. Are you inclined to keep focused on what God wants? Or do you look at other things along the way? How much do you look straight ahead and how much do you look back at regrets and other things?
God, help us to put away our excuses and to follow Jesus. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for June 17-24, 2012:
Who do you say Jesus is?
There were lots of rumors about who Jesus might be. Jesus asked his disciples about them, then asked who they thought he was. Peter responded, "The Messiah of God."
Jesus commanded his disciples not to tell anyone. Jesus said he would be killed and raised on the third day (probably in contrast to what they thought a Messiah might be like). You an read about it in Luke 9:18-27.
Some questions for your family dinner conversation:
1) Who do you think Jesus is?
2) Who do you say he is? (How often do you talk about Jesus publicly? What do you say about him when you talk about him?)
3) What actions of yours match up well with what you think about Jesus? What actions of yours are at odds with what you think about Jesus?
4) Jesus said if you want to follow him you need to "deny yourself and take up your cross daily." What do you think that means? Are you doing it?
5) What else caught your attention in the passage?
God, help us to know who Jesus is and live our lives accordingly. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for June 10 - 16, 2012:
Do what you can with what you have
Jesus' disciples looked at the hungry, tired crowd and thought they should send them into the surrounding villages so they could find lodging and get something to eat.
But Jesus had a different idea. "You feed them," he said.
The disciples were shocked. They thought they had no ability to do such a thing. But when they followed Jesus' plan, the crowd of thousands was fed.
Sometimes Christians look at what they have and think it's not enough in the face of the need -- so they don't do anything. But a far better response is to do what you can with what you have. Often God will multiply what you do, so it becomes enough.
The text for this week is Luke 9:10-17. Some questions you can discuss at your family dinner table or with friends:
1) Have you ever gotten through something where it didn't seem possible at first?
2) What are some places where you notice a need but think what you have isn't enough to meet it?
3) What are some things you could do to help meet the need (even if you think it won't be enough)?
God, thank you for your abundance. Help us to be faithful to do our part. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for June 3 - 9, 2012:
God's power flows through you
When Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" his disciples were mystified. Lots of people were jostling each other; Jesus was in the middle of a crowd and many people could have touched him. But Jesus had felt God's power flow from him and into someone else. He wanted to know who it was.
This week we'll look at how God's power flows through you. Along the way we'll talk about the similarities between slow-growing trees on Mt. Rainier and some software engineers in India in the 1980's. (It helps to persevere in tough climates.) Join us for an interesting conversation!
If you can't make it, you might want to read the texts at your dinner table and discuss them. You'll have lots to talk about. This week we're reading 2 Kings 4:28-36, Acts 9:36-42, and Luke 8:49-55.
A couple questions for your dinner conversation:
1) When someone intentionally touched Jesus, he could feel it. When you pray, does it feel like you're someone in the crowd accidentally bumping into Jesus? Or are you more like the woman reaching out with expectation?
2) When Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter died, Jesus didn’t give up. What are some things that you should persist on, even though other people think there's no reason for hope?
God, let your power and love flow through us to the nations. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic for May 27 - June 2, 2012:
Doing good? Persist!
When Jesus arrived outside a town on the shore of Lake Galilee, he met a man who terrorized the people in the area. Luke 8:26-39 says the man was naked, lived in the graveyard and had many demons. (You may not believe in demons, but the Bible takes for granted that they exist and that you can do something about them when you notice them afflicting people.)
Luke reports that the man fell at Jesus' feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me." Then Luke tells the reason the man was shouting: Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man.
In other words, Jesus saw the man's need and immediately started to act on the man's behalf. He didn't ask permission. He didn't wait for the man to sign a consent form. He recognized the man's suffering and immediately sought to make his life better, commanding the demon to leave.
Usually demons left when Jesus told them to go. But this one did not at first, even though it recognized Jesus' authority.
As Jesus talked to the man, he found he had not one demon but many. The demon said its name was "Legion," that is, the equivalent of 3,000 to 6,000 Roman foot soldiers. Probably this is an exaggeration; all we know is that more than one demon tormented the poor man and caused him to act the wild way he did.
Jesus knew the right thing to do as soon as he saw the man. But it took some persistence -- far more than usual -- because of the difficulty of the case.
When you're doing good, it will often require persistence, sometimes far more than you expect. Stick with it!
We'll have a chance to discuss the rest of this story at our worship service on Sunday May 27 at 9:30 a.m. and at a discussion group on Wednesday May 30 at 6:30 p.m.
Some reflection questions for your dinner table:
1) When have you worked on something good that wound up being harder than you expected?
2) What good things do you need to persist on today?
God, thank you that Jesus persisted and set the man free. Help us to persist on things that are good, also. Thank you! Amen.
Our topic for May 20-26, 2012:
Tell storms "Be still"
Luke 8:22-25 records that Jesus surprised his followers by telling a storm to calm down. When the storm followed his direction, his folowers were even more surprised.
Many people don't realize that Jesus did things as a model for them of a better way to live. Jesus expected us to follow his example and to do greater things than he did.
When storms are crashing around you, you do not need to be afraid. You can tell them to be calm.
Try it the next time you're in a frightful storm!
Discussion questions for your dinner table:
1) What storms do you remember?
2) What storms could you tell to calm down and be still?
God, thank you for Jesus' example for us. Help us to live up to our full potential. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on May 13, 2012:
You can be in Jesus' family
On Mother's Day (May 13), we'll have two services. Our regular service at 9:30 a.m. will have the topic, "You can be in Jesus' family."
Once when Jesus' family came to see him, they couldn't get close because of the crowd. When Jesus heard they were waiting to see him, he answered, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
At our 9:30 service, we'll discuss what it means to be part of Jesus' family.
Then at 11 a.m. on Mother's Day we'll have a special healing service. Justin Gramm will lead worship on the guitar and we'll pray for anyone who would like prayer for themselves or for their friends.
We'd especially like to pray for people in stuck conditions -- people who haven't been able to get better even after seeing doctors. We've seen great results with people with back and hip problems, people with infertility problems, and a number of other medical conditions. We can't promise any particular outcome, but we know God cares for you and the people you know who need healing.
God, thank you that Jesus says that anyone who hears the word of God and does it is part of his family. We praise you. Amen.
Our topic on May 6, 2012:
Everything hidden will come to light
In Luke 8:17, Jesus says that "Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light."
That's not good news for most of us! Many people have things they'd just as soon stayed hidden.
But Hebrews says that Jesus knows what we are going through, since he endured every temptation. We should boldly go to talk to Jesus about our failures, Hebrews says, because Jesus understands.
"We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
God, help us to live in your light, and help us boldly enter your presence to talk to you about things we are ashamed of. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on April 29, 2012:
Pay attention to how you listen
Jesus told a story about a man sowing seed. He later said the seed was the word of God. The man spread the seed everywhere. But it produced different results, depending on where it landed. In some cases, the seed was quickly stolen away, before it had a chance to take root.
Jesus said we should pay attention to how we listen, because people won't benefit from hearing what he says if they don't take action and follow his advice. Jesus says even what they think they have will be taken away from them.
Maybe you've experienced this in a college class -- you thought you had studied, but when you started taking the test, your mind went blank. You didn't have as much knowledge as you thought.
That's not good in a classroom. How much worse if it happened in the game of life.
God, help us to pay attention to how we listen, and help us to quickly, eagerly and joyfully follow Jesus. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on April 22, 2012:
9:30 a.m. Don't be offended by love
11 a.m. Special Healing Service
On April 22 we'll have our regular service at 9:30 a.m., followed by coffee. Then at 11 a.m. we'll have a special healing service. Justin Gramm will lead worship on the guitar and we'll pray for anyone who would like prayer for themselves or for their friends. We'd especially like to pray for people in stuck conditions -- people who haven't been able to get better even after seeing doctors. We've seen great results with people with back and hip problems, people with infertility problems, and a number of other medical conditions. We can't promise any particular outcome, but we know God cares for you and the people you know who need healing.
At our 9:30 service, the topic will be "Don't be offended by love." We'll look at a number of people who were offended by Jesus. They didn't realize it, but they were bumping into love, and they didn't like it. The message will give you some helpful things to think about in your life.
God, help us not to be offended by you or by what you are doing. And be with all the people who need healing today. Help us to learn how to bring healing to individuals and nations. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on April 15, 2012:
What have you seen Jesus do?
When John the Baptist was in prison, he started to wonder if Jesus really was the Messiah. John had devoted his life to a strict diet, including no alcohol. The talk about Jesus was that he ate with anybody and drank a lot. Perhaps John wondered if Jesus was holy enough to be the Messiah. At any rate, he sent his disciples to ask.
Jesus sent the disciples back with the instructions to tell John what they had seen and heard: in Jesus' presence, the blind received their sight, the deaf heard, the lame walked, and the dead were raised. Jesus pointed to what he did, and let John decide what he thought.
After John's disciples had left, Jesus said that even though his own habits and John's were very different, they both were children of wisdom, and wisdom was vindicated by all her children, even though they behaved differently.
What have you seen Jesus do? Your story might help someone who is having doubts about Jesus.
God, thank you for Jesus and John the Baptist, both so different, and both guided by your spirit. Help us to be guilded by you, also. Thank you. Amen.
Our schedule for Holy Week:
April 1, Palm Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
April 5, Maundy Thursday, 7:15 p.m.
April 6, Good Friday, 7:15 p.m.
April 8, Easter Sunday, 9:30 a.m. with an Easter egg hunt after Easter worship.
Our topic on March 25, 2012:
Faith says to Jesus
"Only speak the word"
Jesus focused all his time and energy on the people of Israel. Well, almost all of it. A couple remarkable people got Jesus to help them, even though they were not Jewish. This week we'll hear about of one of them.
Luke 7 tells the story of a centurion, a Roman officer in charge of many soldiers. The centurion had built the synagogue in Capernaum. When his servant got sick and the centurion heard that Jesus could heal people, he sent the Jewish elders from the synagogue he had built to plead his case. Jesus changed direction, and started towards the man's house.
On the way, Jesus was intercepted. The man didn't feel worthy to have Jesus in his house, but as a soldier who gave and followed orders, he knew how authority worked. And he believed Jesus could command his servant to be well. He told Jesus, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed."
This week we'll look at this man's remarkable example, and encourage people to tell Jesus about their sick friends.
God, thank you for the faith of the centurion, who knew that his servant could be healed with just a word from Jesus. Help us to have faith and to bring to you others who also need to be healed. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on March 18, 2012:
Check the results
before following advice
Jesus says you can tell whether you should follow a person's advice or not. He recommends you look at the fruit that's being produced by the person.
Is the relationship guru divorced? Not a good sign.
Does the financial advisor have wealth from his or her own investing? Or just from taking fees from others?
Does the diet author follow his or her diet? If so, does the author have the kind of shape, health and fitness you desire? (If they're thin but die at age 50, what good is that?)
Before you take advice, you should look to see what the results are. (If a picture says "results not typical" or "simulated picture" or "hired actor," you should run. The ad's not being honest and the photo is an illusion.) What is the real fruit of the tree, not the fruit hung on it by the advertising agency just for the photo shoot?
Jesus says his own advice is worth following. He says that people whose foundation is faithfulness to what he teaches will find what they have built will last even in storms, while others will be devastated by loss.
You can apply Jesus' own test to this claim. When you look at the fruit Jesus produced -- blind people healed, lame people made whole, lepers cleansed, outcasts accepted -- you can get an idea whether you think Jesus' teaching is worth following.
God, help us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Help us not to be taken in by false advertising, fake promises, lies and deceptions. Help us to pursue what is best. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on March 11, 2012:
Love your enemies
Be children of God
Jesus lived in a culture that taught you should get revenge when people hurt you -- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
But Jesus had a different message and a different way of living.
"Love your enemies," Jesus said. "Do good to those who abuse you."
Jesus argued that God loves everyone and we should, too. He said that as we love our enemies, we behave like God and become God's children.
Jesus modeled what this kind of life would look like, standing up to his enemies and openly disagreeing with them, but loving them at the same time.
God, thank you for Jesus' life and example to us. Help us to follow his teaching. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on March 4, 2012:
Making a decision?
Talk to God about it
If you've got a decision to make, it would be wise to follow the example of Jesus.
Jesus was known for taking walks so he could get away and talk to God about upcoming decisions. Taking a walk is a great way to clear your head and focus on what you need to think about. Plus, asking God's insight in the matter is very strategic. God knows things that you don't!
This week we'll focus on a verse about Jesus from Luke 6: Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.
Jesus was about to choose his disciples -- the team of leaders that would bring Christianity to the world after he trained them. He didn't make the decision carelessly, and he didn't make it on his own. He spent the whole night talking to God about it.
If you've got a big decision coming up (or even a small one) it might be worth your time to go on a walk and tell God what you're thinking. Then pay attention to any intuitions you have or any clues in your spirit about what might be a good path to take. If you can get to a natural spot that's a little deserted, like a mountain or a lake, so much the better.
God, thank you that you give us insight and wisdom. Help us to talk to you about our big decisions. Thank you. Amen.!
Our topic on February 26, 2012:
Jesus is their friend
If you dislike someone (or some group), you're not alone. Lots of people decide they won't associate with certain groups.
He hung out with every group: rich and poor, weak and powerful, religious and secular.
In Luke 5, we read a common complaint against Jesus: he was hanging out with the "wrong crowd."
If you think there's a "wrong crowd," you'll have a similar complaint: What's Jesus doing over there hanging out with them? Doesn't he know better?
God, thank you that Jesus hung out with all people, even people who didn't naturally mix. Help us to be filled with the love of Christ and to reach out to others. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on February 19, 2012:
You are forgiven
Stand up and walk
This week you are invited to bring friends who have illnesses that they have been unable to shake. We'll have a time during our worship service to hear stories about Jesus healing people and to pray for anyone who wants to get better.
In one of the stories we'll hear that friends brought a lame man to Jesus. When Jesus saw him, he said something surprising: "Your sins are forgiven."
This statement offended the religious leaders, who thought only God should be allowed to forgive sins. And maybe it offends other people who think Jesus should have had more manners and kept quiet about the man's personal business.
But Jesus quickly gets to the heart of the issue whereever he goes. Although many of us looking at the man might have thought that his physical condition was his biggest need, Jesus could see that what he really wanted was to get over the guilt that was keeping him down. Jesus told him clearly, "You are forgiven." Then he told the lame man to stand up and walk. To the surprise of the crowd, the man did.
This Sunday we'll pray for the sick during our worship service. If you ask, we'll give you a free copy of Pastor Mark's book How To Pray For Healing (and what to do if nothing happens).
God, thank you that we are all forgiven. If anyone doesn't believe that they are forgiven, help them learn of your mercy and accept it. And help us all to stand up and walk and get on with our lives. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on January 29, 2012:
God's Spirit will help you resist temptation
This week we'll look at a verse in the Bible that says that Jesus "was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil."
If you've ever faced an extended time of temptation, you know how difficult it is to prevail. Jesus was able to overcome the temptations he faced in the wilderness, and his example provides a great model for us. It's important when you are facing temptation to be led by God's Spirit. If you're not, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble!
This week's message will be helpful no matter what state your life is in -- whether it's all neat and tidy with everything going your way or a complete mess with nothing working out.
God, be with us when we face temptation. Help us to know the true cost of the things that entice us, and help us to be led by your Spirit. When we fall, help us to quickly return to patterns of behavior that are helpful. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on January 22, 2012:
Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire
John the Baptist was attracting large crowds with his fiery message that people needed to change their lives and be forgiven.
When people asked for specific advice, he told them to be content with their wages and to share what they had with others less fortunate.
As more and more people came out to the desert to hear him, people began to ask if he was the Messiah.
John put an end to such speculation. "I baptize you with water," he said, "but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." John identified Jesus as the one who would do this.
When John's ministry was ended by Herod, Jesus took up John's message, announcing that people needed to change their lives and their thinking, because the kingdom of God was near.
After Jesus died and was resurrected, he told his disciples that they needed to wait (and not take action) until they had been filled with the Holy Spirit. He said that the Holy Spirit is a gift that God loves to give, and anyone who asks for God's Spirit will receive.
God, thank you for John the Baptist's message that we need to change our thinking (and our lives!) and receive forgiveness. Help us to do that! And thank you for Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Help us to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Thank you. Amen.
Our topic on January 15, 2012:
If you lose Jesus, he's worth finding again
On January 15, we'll look at a parent's nightmare that happened to Mary and Joseph, who were the parents of Jesus. When Jesus was 12, they lost him. For three days.
They had been visiting the big city, and they left with a large group of friends and thought he was with the group. But he was not.
Three days later they found him. He was in the temple, talking to the elders. When his parents found him, they told Jesus they had been worried. Jesus was surprised. "Did you not know I would be in my Father's house?"
This Sunday, in the context of this story, we'll do four very helpful things:
a) we'll talk about what Jesus' identity means to you
b) we'll help you become as clear about your identity as Jesus was about his
c) we'll give people who feel like they've lost Jesus a chance to find him again
d) we'll give people who have lost their kids a chance to receive prayer
God, be with parents who have lost their kids. Give them comfort, peace and healing. And if anyone reading this feels like they have lost Jesus (or have never known him), help them to find Jesus again. Thank you. Amen.
The message for January 8, 2012:
God prepared Jesus
as your salvation
When Simeon saw Jesus, he recognized him as the Savior of the world, even though Jesus was only a baby.
Simeon had been promised he would see the Messiah before he died. When he saw Jesus, who was at most two months old, Simeon said:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Sometimes people can see individuals (or ideas or causes) in their infancy and recognize how important they will become. But not always. Often the person or idea are ignored and unrecognized for the significance they will later have.
Keep your eyes open for new starts! And don't despise small beginnings. They can blossom into something unexpectedly important.
God, when we see what you are doing in the world, help us to recognize it, even if it is in a very early state. Thank you. Amen.