Fifteenth Week: Political Abuse
Having followed through Jesus’ five Priorities, this is the last week of our Jesus Shaped People Adventure. Within the Priority of ‘Prophetic Challenge’ we consider ‘Political Abuse’. This Adventure ends where the earthly life of Jesus ended – at the cross – another victim of the abuse of power that Jews and Gentiles exercised all too frequently. But our adventure with Jesus continues throughout our lives and beyond.
Political power is essential in society. Yet it can be deeply corrupting. We are conscious of rulers who have had the most appalling effect upon the freedom and well-being of people. In the time of Jesus the Herodian dynasty modelled a style of government that we have seen all too frequently in recent years.
Jesus comes into our world, and in his ministry he reserves his harshest words of challenge to the Jewish religious/political establishment. Declaring his most prophetic message, he reminds us of the need to ensure proper accountability from those who carry such power.
Jesus’ teaching begs some questions:
- What kinds of people are attracted into offering themselves for political office? Should more Christians be actively seeking such responsibilities?
- How does modelling our life on Jesus change the way in which we think and act with regard to politics? Can Christians be Labour? or Conservative? or Liberal Democrat?
- Should the church today be more involved in examining and challenging political decisions and plans? Should we be engaging in more direct action and demonstration?
- How can we help and encourage our political leaders to act in line with Christian teaching and principles?
Fourteenth Week: Social Injustice
This week we continue with Jesus’ fifth priority of ‘Prophetic Challenge’, with a look at ‘Social Injustice’.
Here, we see how Jesus flagged up issues of social justice. Much of his teaching focuses on the responsibility that people have for each other – including famous stories like the Good Samaritan. We have already seen in the earlier sections of our course how his own ministry was so very strongly focused on meeting the needs of the poor and marginalized people.
His word today is challenging. How well do we act in our care of the marginalized people in our community? It is even more challenging when we hear the revealing statement: ‘In as much as you did it for the least of these my brethren, you did it for me.’
So we need to ask some questions:
- Who are the most disadvantaged people in our community? How can our society make sure that they are included and supported?
- Jesus focuses on the ‘challenge to the nations’ to get this right. What responsibility do we have as a country towards the poorest nations of the world? Are we doing enough?
- How are we to work for a just society – how are Christians to be involved in this?
- Should Christians urge the UK to have greater concern for the economics of poorer countries?
- Do we see Jesus in the lives of the poorest people of our world?
Thirteenth Week: Spiritual Confusion
We start our concluding theme of our Jesus Shaped People Adventure with the first week of Jesus’ fifth Priority ‘Prophetic Challenge’, with the focus on ‘Spiritual Confusion’.
As we move to this theme in the ministry of Jesus we start to see why Jesus was too hot to handle. His powerful challenge to the religious and political leaders of the day was more than they could stomach – and led to his eventual crucifixion.
This week we see how he asked searching questions of the rules and regulations of the Jewish Law – and indicated that his ‘new way of living’ could not be hidebound by such practices.
Maintaining religious ritual just for the sake of it needed exposing – and replacing. St Mark in his chapters 2 & 3 relates five stories that challenge the contemporary view of the Jewish Law:
• the authority of Jesus to declare God’s forgiveness
• the invitation of Jesus to those whom others regarded as sinful
• the lifestyle of Jesus that encourages parties and celebrations
• the readiness of Jesus to break the rules over Sabbath Day observance
• the eagerness of Jesus to heal people on the Sabbath Day
In all these incidents the Pharisees opposed Jesus, and Jesus explained to them how it is important not to let rules and regulations imprison us.
For us, the following questions may be helpful:
• What rituals and practices in the church today don’t fit with the way of Jesus?
• How can we ensure that the church is always open to the challenge that Jesus brings?
• What would Jesus say about the spiritual state of our country today?
Twelfth Week: The Power of Prayer
This week we conclude our look at the priority of ‘Prayer’ with a look at ‘the Power of Prayer’.
It is clear from the ministry of Jesus that not only was prayer for him a means of discovering God’s path, it was also a channel of God’s power. He explains to the disciples that ‘only prayer can achieve the healing they seek’ – and he ‘lifts his eyes to heaven’ when healing the man who was dumb etc.
It is clear from the Acts of the Apostles that they were ‘Jesus Shaped’ in believing that prayer makes things happen – and that ministry needed to be done always ‘in the name of Jesus’. Jesus reminds the disciples that they are to ‘ask and they will receive’ – and that ‘the Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name.’
Last week we thought about the Lord’s Prayer – where the petition ‘thy will be done’ is such a strong feature. In prayer we come close to God, and he comes close to us – so that we can grow into a fusion of his will and ours – and the channels of God’s love and power can be open for our good, and the good of all whom we pray for. This week we explore how God responds to our prayer – and what we can expect through prayer.
The following questions may be ones that will help us to think through our reflections on prayer:
• What is our own experience of God responding to our requests?
• What is happening when we pray?
• Does prayer ‘change God’s mind’ or does it ‘change our hearts’ – or both?
• If God does intervene – why doesn’t he do it more often?
• How can we develop a more prayerful approach to all that we do?
Eleventh Week: Balanced Prayer
This week we continue with Jesus’ fourth priority of ‘Prayer’, with a look at ‘Balanced Prayer’.
It was so straightforward – the disciples say to Jesus ‘Lord teach us how to pray’ – so he gave them the words of what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. But what did Jesus mean by this – and how can we grow in our benefit from it?
The words of the Lord’s Prayer appear twice in the gospels – in St Luke when the disciples asked him as above, and in St Matthew, in a slightly different form, as part of the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount.’
The advice he gave to them probably sprang out of the daily prayer experience of Jesus himself – in other words he was looking for the disciples to learn from his own experience of prayer, and model their own spiritual life on it. It is therefore very good spiritual practice to look at the prayer in detail, and benefit from it.
The following questions could be helpful:
- In the Lord’s Prayer did Jesus give us ‘words to say’ or a ‘pattern to follow’?
- How important is finding a balance in our prayers that is both focused on God and concerned for his people?
- How can we keep the Lord’s Prayer fresh and relevant?
- What can we learn about Jesus from the example of his prayer life?
Tenth Week: Waiting on God
We resume our adventure by considering Jesus’ fourth priority – ‘Prayer’, with the focus on Waiting on God.
How did Jesus know what he should be doing? How did he deal with the pressures of his ministry? How did he handle temptation? How did he live with the knowledge of his crucifixion?
Jesus’ own spiritual life was mostly a very private matter – leaving his followers regularly – perhaps even daily to commune with his Father in the hills around the lakeside. However it is also clear that it was the powerhouse for his life. Every now and then we are given glimpses – and we see the disciples being challenged and re-shaped by their being with Jesus and experiencing how prayer was such an influence on his life.
In these three weeks studying Prayer, we explore all this ourselves – with open minds and hearts that can allow the spiritual ways and priorities of Jesus to be grasped by us more clearly, and our patterns of prayer to be re-shaped by him.
Today we look at a simple story of how prayer was vital at the start of his ministry – and how it enabled him to be clear in his ministry and his leadership.
Here are a few questions that it might pose for us:
- How satisfied are you with your current daily pattern of prayer – is it sufficient to ensure that God is able to guide your daily decisions and priorities?
- How can you make prayer a more special feature in your life?
- What can you learn about prayer from the example of Jesus?
Ninth Week: Training on the Job
We conclude Jesus’ third priority – ‘Team Building’, with the focus on Training on the Job.
How do we equip people to become committed to the work of Christian ministry, within the church and outside it? It is tempting to be passive – and let others do it! There is a huge reservoir of gifts and skills within our church family – but sometimes people lack the confidence, the authority or the training to use these in the service of Jesus.
There are also many involved in Christian service that is ‘outside’ the church rather than within it. They need to know that their church is prayerfully supportive of them in work that is often challenging and stressful. From how things grew in the early Church certain things are clear:
• Jesus’ way seems to include a bit of ‘throwing them in at the deep end’!
• They were all involved – using their different gifts and skills.
• They often worked in pairs.
• Jesus believed in them, and hugely encouraged them.
• They learnt from their mistakes – and weren’t damaged by them.
• They gave generously in support of this work.
• Good leadership was a vital commodity.
As we explore this week, ‘every member ministry’ is a great aspiration: we are all asked to be active rather than passive! These questions may help us:
• How do we encourage everyone to be involved in Christian service?
• Is there a place for being ‘thrown in at the deep end’?
• What gifts have you been given that you are using/could be using in his service?
• What sometimes prevents us from playing our part?
• What more would you like to do for Him – if only?
• What kind of training produces the best results?
• What support do we offer to those on the coal face?
Eighth Week: Relationship Building
We continue on Jesus’ third priority – ‘Team Building’, with the focus on Relationship Building.
Alongside all that he was daily involved in Jesus made time to form a special people – a group who would both make it happen, and be a foretaste of all that he had come to do. In building this special family some things stand out strongly:
the disciples are to be the evidence of all that he has come to do – ‘by this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.’
• to the basic commands to love God and our neighbour Jesus adds a third – ‘those who follow me are to love one another as I have loved you’.
• peace-making is made when God’s kingdom of peace breaks in through conflict – ‘forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing’.
• the way of Jesus is challengingly different – particularly in respect of power and authority…the first are last, the rich are poor, the powerful are stripped, and those who follow Jesus are to live this out – like he did.
• Jesus deals directly with things that need addressing. He challenges the disciples to get it right – and to do it his way….’actions speak louder’.
So – let’s look at all this – and ask a few questions:
• Do we have a real desire for our church relationships to match the model set by Jesus?
• Is personal ambition a good thing – or does it lead to superiority and abuse of power?
• How are we to grow in good self-esteem and yet reduce our pride and self-seeking?
• Why is it that forgiveness is a good idea – until we have something to forgive?
Seventh Week: Common Purpose
We start on Jesus’ third priority – ‘Team Building’, with a focus on Common Purpose.
In addition to having a massively impressive ‘inclusive’ ministry that made all sorts of people welcome, and brought blessing to a remarkable range of people, Jesus also had a deliberate ‘exit strategy’. He recognised right from the start that a group of people would need to be called and equipped to maintain the work, and develop it after his departure. In the next 3 weeks we will try to learn much from the way in which he dealt with this group.
So we think about how Jesus gave them a powerful sense of Common Purpose, doing this by the following methods:
• He worked intensively with those identified as the key leaders – Peter, John and James.
• He gave twelve people a strong sense of being ‘chosen’ – and spent quality time with them, helping them to grasp what was expected of them.
• He worked with a larger group of disciples too – at least 70 of them.
• He was a brilliant role model that ensured they had a clear vision and purpose.
• He steadily developed their understanding – eventually challenging them to be willing to give everything they had for the Kingdom of God.
Learning from this, we need this week to ask some pertinent questions:
• How is ‘Jesus Shaped People’ helping us to develop a clearer vision and purpose?
• How would you now summarise the vision we have for our church?
• Are we ensuring that all members of our church share a common vision and purpose?
• Do we believe that in following Jesus, God is calling us to change the world?
• Are we willing to give sacrificially of our time and talents for his work today?
• How can we include and challenge others to be part of this great work?
Sixth Week: Storytelling
This week, in our Jesus Shaped People Adventure, we conclude our focus on Jesus’ second priority – ‘Teaching’, with a focus on Jesus as the world’s greatest ‘story teller’.
Jesus told ‘parables’ – stories with a hidden message. Parables are described as:
• Memorable and attractive, able to be recalled easily.
• Accessible to everyone whatever their level of education or intellectual ability.
• Enabling people to ‘learn for themselves’ as they explore personally the significance of the story. Only occasionally does Jesus help this by interpreting the parable.
• Allowing for developmental understanding and application.
Jesus ‘parables’ vary greatly – from simple illustrations that are described as parables, to lengthier and loved stories like the Good Samaritan & the Prodigal Son. St Mark’s gospel contains few parables, though ‘The Sower’ we read today is an important exception. St Matthew and St Luke are longer than St Mark, largely because they contain many more of Jesus’ stories.
Perhaps we could mull over the following questions for ourselves this week:
• Why did Jesus make parables his main method of teaching?
• Are his stories still speaking to us in the way that he would want them to?
• How important should ‘story telling’ be for his Church today?
• What stories should we be discovering and telling in our church?
Fifth Week: Un-learning
This week, in our Jesus Shaped People Adventure, we continue our focus on Jesus’ second priority – ‘Teaching’, with a look at what we need to ‘un-learn’.
Most ‘un-learning’ is harder than learning. It is often easier to embrace new ideas than to let go of old and cherished ones – just as it is easier to start new things than to close old things down. But ‘un-learning’ is crucial – letting go of the opinions and ideas that can have no place in the Christian life. These tend to come in a number of categories:
• Getting rid of faith convictions that can have no place in the Christian life. These are such as superstitious ideas and unbiblical belief.
• Getting rid of prejudiced thinking – about other people’s ways and beliefs, especially those that relate to other ethnic groups.
• Getting rid of unwanted baggage that needs discarding from earlier experiences and relationships… this can be moral issues or narrow minded vision and thinking…. sometimes this can even relate to our church worship….
Today and this week we look at how Jesus broke through age-old customs when they had to be discarded. The following questions could be of interest to each of us:
• When did we last let go of some earlier cherished opinion?
• Why is ‘un-learning’ so difficult?
• How can we best help each other to ‘un-learn’ things that need discarding?
Fourth Week: Capturing Hearts
This week, in our Jesus Shaped People Adventure, we start our three week focus on Jesus’ second priority – ‘Teaching’.
In the last century, Hitler wrongly captured people’s hearts – and there are those today who also do it for evil intent. It is appalling to think that many justify acts of inhuman cruelty as being something that God expects. The desperate state of life in Syria today is testimony to this. When Jesus the Rabbi captures people’s hearts he does so to make us more like him – the most beautiful and perfect person who has ever lived. When our hearts beat for Jesus we find ourselves eliminating desires that might otherwise lead us into evil retaliation or retribution.
This week therefore we can examine what motivates our hearts – what we are really wanting – and whether we have things in their proper priority place.
Our readings remind us of who Jesus is – and his right to lead us – so we can consider asking these questions of ourselves:
• How has Jesus made us feel special? In what ways do we feel chosen by him? What does this feel like …….daunting? …..exciting? ……demanding?
• What does it mean for us today to be living ‘in the world’ but not be ‘of the world’?
• How can we become more invitational and inspirational? How can we be used by God to capture people’s hearts and lives? Are we ready for this today?
Third Week: Meeting Real Needs
This week, in our Jesus Shaped People Adventure, we conclude our focus on Jesus’ first priority – ‘People’ – with a look at how Jesus ‘scratched where people itched’. He was out there on the streets with all kinds of people. Their needs became his opportunity to touch them in body, mind and spirit.
We also have ‘body, mind and spirit needs’ – as do all whom we know and love. Jesus is our friend – ‘by his wounds we are healed’. Jesus brings such a deep experience of peace and well-being to us, so that we know that there is nothing we need ever fear.
Getting into a real relationship with Jesus is the first step. He can then deal with the unwanted baggage that we have collected along the way – and give us that spiritual spring clean that we need. We will then discover that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us – however bad things get!
Having sorted out ourselves, Jesus then invites us to get alongside other people – and their real needs too – so that Jesus can use us for his healing work today.
Getting into that can be helped through our asking some questions of ourselves:
• What experience do you have of being helped in your struggles?
• How we are already ‘Jesus Shaped People’ in helping people cope with their struggles?
• What other needs are present in our communities that we could respond to?
• What kinds of needs in people are most difficult to respond to?
Second Week: People on the Edge
This week our Jesus Shaped People Adventure continues to focus on Jesus’ first priority – ‘People’ – and especially for reaching those whom others tried to exclude – sick people, children, women, ethnic minorities and tax collectors included.
The Gospels tell how the crowds, the Pharisees or even His disciples tried to stop Jesus meeting such people. In our Gospel reading, Bartimaeus was an excluded blind person who became a Christian in Jericho that day. St Luke tells us that another, the tax collector Zacchaeus also met Jesus. In some ways these two men could scarcely be more contrasting. But their needs to be loved and belong, and be transformed by Jesus were very similar.
If we are going to be a Jesus Shaped People we need to connect with all kinds of people and be interested in them and their concerns. Our society can be increasingly segregated by e.g. wealth and social background. So this week in our groups we are going to discuss how we can discover where people are in their faith journey, making sure we do include and welcome all social groups.
We also need to ask some questions of ourselves:
• What does it feel like to be ‘on the Edge’ – what does this title mean today?
• Why do we find it tempting to exclude certain kinds of people?
• Why does Jesus make connecting with ‘edge people’ such a top priority?
• Who are the people ‘on the edge’ in our own community and society?
• What have we got to show ‘edge people’ that can help them to find Jesus?
• What do we need to become if we are to help people ‘On the Edge’?
It is never too late to join a group. Please contact The Parish Office.
First Week: Out on the Streets
This Sunday we start our Jesus Shaped People Adventure together. For the next three weeks we shall focus on the first of five priorities of Jesus – ‘People’. In Jesus’ ministry, his first priority is People – and his longing for them to be whole in body, mind and spirit.
He meets them in all sorts of places – in the streets, in synagogues, in boats, in towns, in the countryside, in busy places, in lonely places. However crowded or under pressure, he always has time for people – and they are interested to come and find him.
If we are going to be a Jesus Shaped People we need to connect with all kinds of people and be interested in them and their concerns. So this week in our groups we are going to discuss some questions we can then ask others, who we meet day by day – out on the streets.
We also need to ask some questions of ourselves:
- How are our buildings a help or a hindrance to the work of Jesus today?
- Do we have man-made rules that get in the way of God’s work?
- How can we help people to get more excited by Jesus?
- How do local people view us, the church – are we showing them Jesus?
- What have we got to show them that can help them to find Jesus?
It is not too late to join a group. Please ask Paul Ramsey for details (623093 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Know God, Show His Love, Grow His Church."