Tag Archives: disciples

A Word in Time: Saturday

This is my final contribution to the Methodist Church daily Bible study. Thanks to those who have commented on each day’s posts here.

Luke 9:46-50

True Greatness

 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

Another Exorcist

 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

 

Psalm: Psalm 76 

Background

I recall a conversation with two elderly ladies bemoaning the way children had stopped going to what they called Sunday School. Interestingly, they hadn’t been to church for years either!

Their father had once been superintendent of the town’s largest Sunday School with 400 children each week. One of the sisters said: “And every Sunday they came, sat in rows on the floor and not one of them dared move. They were completely silent because they knew what would happen if they made a peep.”

I suggested it wasn’t much fun. “It wasn’t supposed to be fun,” she said.

Another church I know realised their work with children and families had virtually died and so began afresh, concentrating on babies and parents; building from the ground up. It started with radical welcome, games, new equipment and ensuring that the families always felt at home.

Over time and with much love the work has grown until more than 100 children a month – and their families – now engage with that church and hear the gospel in new ways. And it is fun!

As the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus took someone who in those days didn’t count – a child – and shamed them into understanding the upside-down values of the kingdom of God.

To welcome someone who was discounted in the eyes of society was to open the door for God. It enabled God’s just society to be built and it disabused the disciples of the need to prove themselves better than each other.

What about us? Perhaps our church doesn’t have children but we may well have other marginalised people in or near us. As Jesus said: “the least among all of you is the greatest”.

To Ponder

  • What are the issues around greatness that challenge us in our churches? How can we make a difference?
  • Is Jesus’ message about children still relevant in a denomination where many churches no longer have a Junior Church or any children connected? If so, how might you and your local church convey that message?
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A Word in Time: Friday

Luke 9:37-45

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Jesus Again Foretells His Death

While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

 

Psalm: Psalm 75:1-7
Background

Following directly on from yesterday’s passage Jesus and the disciples have come down the mountain after the Transfiguration and soon he would ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51), where he would be forcibly taken to another hill and crucified.

As soon as they had descended Jesus was confronted with an evil spirit, a family in need, questions of faith, healing and more demands.

Some of the disciples – ones we often refer to as the inner circle – had been with Jesus at the Transfiguration. Others remained below, apparently failing to help the father who is in torment over his son.

Some had heard the voice of God say: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). But even after the child was healed, they still didn’t get it when Jesus says: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands”.

It’s tempting to use that trite phrase that after every mountaintop experience you’re going to have to live in the valley. This story is about much more though.

The way of God was never going to be like a Marvel Comic movie – all blazing light and transformation into some kind of super being who strode across the world smashing down trees and mountains.

It was always going to be ‘my son, my chosen one’ speaking life and love to those in the brokenness of real life and who would then “set his face to go to Jerusalem” and that other hill.

To Ponder

  • Why do you think the disciples still found it so difficult to listen to Jesus and understand? How do we still struggle today?
  • How can we engage with people who live all their lives in the valley and never see the top of the mountain?

A Word in Time: Thursday

Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

Psalm: Psalm 74:13-23
Background

If Mark is the newspaper reporter of the Gospel writers – he writes in short, sharp sentences with a degree of urgency – then Peter could be the TV reporter.

He liked to capture the moment, either with an instant opinion or soundbite, and here he seemed to want to create an image to lock in their experience on the mountaintop. If they make three dwellings, or booths, then there will always be a place where he and others can come back and remember that Moses, Elijah and Jesus appeared together.

There may be difficult days to come but Peter’s dream was that these dwellings could provide them with a bolt-hole – somewhere to be able to recall this holy moment and sit together reminiscing.

What he failed to remember was his previous assertion that Jesus is “the Messiah of God” (Luke 9:20). So shortly after being certain that Jesus is the one for whom all Israel has longed, he now wants to create a memorial that would say something completely different.

To have three dwellings – or shelters as other versions of the Bible put it – suggests that Jesus is no different in status to Moses and Elijah. And Peter wanted to lock that in stone.

Then, almost as if it’s a rebuke, the voice of God reminded the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).

There are only three times in the Gospels when the voice of God speaks out loud – at Jesus’ Baptism (Luke 3:22), here at the Transfiguration and finally in John 12:27-28 after some Greeks ask to see Jesus. Each time God speaks it is to affirm Jesus as God’s beloved son.

Here it seems to make it clear that no one else stands in the same relationship: not even the heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah.

To Ponder

  • Do we make the mistake of trying to ‘lock in’ our experiences of God? If so, how might we prevent this?
  • Are there holy moments that still sustain you in dark times? If so, what are they?

A Word in Time: Wednesday

Luke 9:18-27

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

 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.’

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’

Psalm: Psalm 74:1-12

Background

What is the mark of a true follower of Christ? Is it someone who can properly identify him or the person who gets on with the business of walking out a daily pilgrimage of faith?

In a quiet moment, Luke’s Gospel appears to have Jesus ask in an almost disinterested way if the disciples have been listening to the gossip about him: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (v. 18). Could he be John the Baptist come back to life, or the great hero Elijah? Was it possible, the crowds were wondering, that another prophet was back among them?

Peter piped up that he has the answer: they are praying alongside ‘the Messiah of God’ (v. 20).

You might expect Jesus to have congratulated them for getting it right, but instead he begins to talk about suffering, rejection and his ultimate Passion. It’s as if the revelation of who he is unlocks the ability for the disciples to now appreciate what is coming their way.

More than that, they have to be confronted by the reality of discipleship. Jesus says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (vv. 23-24).

Discipleship isn’t simply about knowing that Jesus is Lord and taking up the cross isn’t about putting up with some difficult, or even very tough, things in your life. Too often we trot out the phrase “It’s a cross I have to bear” when we talk about an inconvenience.

Jesus was calling the disciples, and us, to be prepared to die daily to their own desires in order to put God and the kingdom first: even at the cost of their own lives – just as he would give up his life for the whole world.

To Ponder

  • How does the Church in the West take up its cross daily?
  • Have we cheapened the idea of taking up our cross? If so, how? And what might we do to re-address this?
  • How do we renew the idea of daily discipleship?

A Word in Time: Tuesday

Luke 9:10-17

Feeding the Five Thousand

 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

 

Psalm: Psalm 73:15-28
Background

The 12 disciples had been on work experience: preaching and healing the sick in the villages around Bethsaida (Luke 9:1-9). They risked going out with no possessions, throwing themselves on the hospitality of strangers and proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Now, tired and in need of some time alone with Jesus, they set off for a debrief. They wanted to talk about what had happened and, presumably, check out if they had done well.

Everything we read in the Gospels suggests that time with Jesus was enjoyable; the meals were fun; the conversations were challenging; so these private moments would be precious. But just as everyone was ready to settle in for a good evening the crowds turned up.

You can picture Peter, James and John (the Sons of Thunder) getting ready to turn them away but, as Luke’s Gospel tells, us, Jesus “welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured”.

How frustrating! Just when you want some quiet time with the Rabbi, people butt in and crowd you out.

Are there moments when you hope to find a space to be alone with Christ – say in prayer or Bible study – only to find that other people’s demands or someone else’s work schedule disrupt your carefully-prepared plan?

What’s the correct response? Is it right to get frustrated because our ‘quiet time’ with Jesus has been disrupted or should we celebrate because those who had greater needs were heard and healed?

Perhaps the most challenging thing about today’s passage is that Jesus never does get to relax with the disciples – within a very short time he’s putting them back to work: challenging their faith in the feeding of thousands.

To Ponder

  • How do you respond when your quiet time is disrupted?
  • Do you ever feel pushed out of the presence of Jesus?

A Word in Time: Monday

Day 2 of this week’s Methodist Church online Bible studies, which you can also find here.

Luke 9:1-9

The Mission of the Twelve

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there.Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Herod’s Perplexity

 Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.

Psalm: Psalm 73:1-14

Background

Work experience will have been a really commonplace experience for many people in the past 30 years or so. They’ve listened to the theory, had some input from an expert and now’s the time to try it out. And that’s exactly where the 12 disciples are in this passage. Jesus sends them out to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal”. Behind these few verses must lurk a ton of questions about how, when, where, what …

In a previous career, I spent ten years training newspaper reporters and can still recall the look of horror when the first day came to send them out into the nearby town with one simple instruction: come back with six story ideas.

They were armed with a notebook, a pen, a good mind and the ability to ask the right questions. I also knew there were any number of good stories waiting out there.

The disciples were sent apparently with nothing. Well, they had the power to preach, to heal and to cast out demons. Apart from that, they took no possessions. Why? Because they needed to rely on the power of the story they took with them and also the generosity of those to whom they went.

Hospitality was a feature of life in biblical times and to go with too much wealth would be to tempt the disciples to shop around for the most comfortable lodgings. To travel light allowed them to be guests and know generosity.

Perhaps, as bearers of the story of Jesus, we need to relearn how to be guests in other people’s lives; to go with faith and a willingness to share rather than an insistence that only we have all the riches.

To Ponder

  • Where are you being asked to go and proclaim the kingdom of God?
  • And what do you need to leave behind?

Daily Thought: lightbulb moment

This week I’m on BBC Radio Solent with the early morning Daily Thought slot at 6.50am. It’s part of the Julian Clegg Breakfast Show.

The great challenge is to say something about faith in 90 seconds – especially difficult in Holy Week. Here is today’s offering:

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It struck me this week just how easy it is to take things for granted. We simply don’t pay attention to the things around us until something happens to rob us of them.

At least a couple of times a week I drive past the Potters Heron pub in Ampfield (picture above) and I have been in for meals. But, if I’m honest, I’d never paid that much attention to its thatched roof until last week when the emergency services had to tear off the thatch to control the terrible fire that broke out.

It was a spot on the journey between where we pick up two of our grandchildren and our home – usually around where one of them utters the time-honoured phrase: “are we nearly there yet?”

Now, everyone who goes past is only too aware of what’s happened. For the owners, the staff, or those who were days away from holding their wedding reception at the Potters Heron, the fire is something to be remembered for the rest of their lives.

This week is Holy Week – the time in the Christian church when we journey towards the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday before celebrating his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

In his last long conversation with his friends the disciples, Jesus says he has to leave them. They protest but Jesus insists that leaving is essential if he going to be able to come back – he has to face death in order to beat it.

This is the disciples’ lightbulb moment: they realise that they have to let go of the one thing they can’t ever imagine being without and say, finally, that they are now certain he has come from God.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: FRIDAY

RCA Studio B sign
The signpost outside RCA Studio B

I’ve been talking this week about our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee – and one of the places we knew we had to make a pilgrimage to was the historic RCA Studio B on Music Row, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.

The studio was opened by RCA Records in 1957 and played a major role in establishing Nashville as a premier recording centre. The list of hit records that started out there is mind-blowing. Elvis himself recorded more than 250 hits in this one small building.

IMG_1239
The ‘Elvis board’ inside the studios.

As well as the King, there were Floyd Kramer, the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Bobby Goldsboro, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves … I could fill my time just listing musical stars.

Dolly Parton was so nervous on her way to record at RCA Studio B that she crashed her car but didn’t tell anyone until the recording session was over!

Everthing in the place reeks of history and musical quality. The grand piano has been there since the day the studio opened. Jerry Lee Lewis has played it. Dean Martin has leaned on it!

RCA studio B grand piano
The grand piano, played by all of the stars who recorded at RCA Studio B.

As a writer, just to stand in the same room and think of the catalogue of hits was almost enough to make me hang up my notebook and guitar, but then I remembered an encounter from the last days of Jesus.

The disciples had lived through the crucifixion and then met the risen Jesus who told them it was their job to keep telling the world of God’s love, just as he had done. It didn’t matter if they thought they weren’t up to the task – he believed in them.

“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he told them.

If we have a God-given gift we are called to use it. Make sure not to squander your opportunities today.

A WORD IN TIME: TUESDAY

This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Mark 13:5-13

5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good newsmust first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.


“Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.’” (vv. 5-6)

Background

In the media race for our attention, the crucial thing is to build up an online profile. Using Facebook and Twitter (both probably too old school now), Instagram, Snapchat and many other platforms, anyone who aspires to be a superstar has to be followed by millions.

It’s impossible to opt out and retreat into anonymity if you want people to follow you. Of course, if you don’t keep your latest exploits where everyone can see them, you will fast become irrelevant.

Today’s conversation between Jesus and the disciples came about because his followers were being seduced by the opulence and grandeur of the temple.

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)

Instead of believing the Jewish religious leaders’ publicity machine, they needed to realise what mattered: did they want to defend the symbol of faith or the one the symbol was pointing to?

“Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 6).

Jesus knew that his preaching of the kingdom of God had angered the Jewish priests and leaders. He knew the pressure would be on his followers to recant their stories as false teachers and even family disputes threatened the in-breaking kingdom of God.

We read later in the Bible: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

It’s difficult to “consider it … joy” when you feel all the media messages are against your way of life, but while our Instagram account may not be followed by millions our Saviour’s profile is one we are urged to share.

To Ponder

  • Is it a problem or a bonus that the Church doesn’t have money for multi-million pound publicity campaigns? Why?
  • How do we help people “consider it … joy” when they face trials in their life? What pastoral gifts have you found helpful?

A Word in Time: Monday

This is today’s Bible study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Acts 1:1-8

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’


“… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8)

Background

Living in an age where fake news can travel around the world before the truth has got its boots on – to misquote an old saying – we know only too well the power of communication. Knowing how to get your message out – whether it’s a political campaign or an advertising slogan – is essential if you want to get people on your side.

As Jesus comes to the end of his time on earth, he has been giving the disciples an intensive course in missiology ready for this moment. They are convinced now that he really has risen from the dead, but need a bit more understanding about what comes next.

The answer is not ‘go’ but ‘wait’. Why? Because good communication needs the right network and it isn’t in place yet.

The “promise of the Father” (v. 4) is the gift of the Holy Spirit and a promised power to witness to the truth of the Resurrection and the new reality of the kingdom of God to change lives.

It’s only a matter of days before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then the disciples understand exactly what Jesus meant by saying “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

The Galilean boy band will be in on the start of a world tour: beginning where they are but spreading out on the coat tails of the expanding Roman Empire – the very occupiers who have tried to crush the Jewish people. From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and into the known world the story of a risen Messiah rockets as believers tell it.

Within a very few years the story of Jesus had reached Britain … the ends of the earth?

To Ponder

  • How difficult is it to wait when you have a message you want to share? What can be gained by waiting?
  • What networks do we ignore at our peril?